Relaxation and Stress Management

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Everyone knows that too much stress is bad for your health. Still, many of us leave little room for relaxation in our busy lives. Relaxation and stress management are required for good health and need to become part of the daily routine. Relaxation allows for improved digestion, detoxification, body repair, and restocking the body’s reserves. Research continues to support the beneficial effects that come from relaxation: reducing anxiety, managing pain, decreasing symptoms associated with various conditions, and overall disease prevention.

Stress is defined as any situation that disrupts the body’s balance. On a daily basis we are faced with both good and bad stressors. How quickly you process and dismiss stress contributes to your continued health. Ideally, your body reacts to a stressful situation and then quickly returns to center. If you are under continual stress, your body is not able to return to center. As a result, stress hormones continue to circulate in the bloodstream with negative health effects.

Ongoing stress can disturb the body’s ability to absorb and store important nutrients, resulting in nutritional deficiencies. For example, B vitamins, potassium, phosphorus, vitamin C, magnesium, and calcium levels can become depleted. Stress can also promote the formation of free radicals in the body, weaken the immune system, increase blood pressure, disrupt sleep, impair attention and memory, and cause weight gain.

Unfortunately, some people are so used to being under stress that they are not even aware that their bodies are actually in a continuous state of physical disruption. Digestive complaints, neck and back pain, and headaches appear “normal.” These symptoms are not “normal,” they are alerting you that your body is physically unable to cope with the pressure.

Managing stress involves identifying and eliminating the cause(s). Establishing positive patterns to replace negative (stressful) habits ensures better handling of stress. Getting regular exercise and eating a healthful diet nourishes and supports a healthy mind and body, and strengthens your stress-fighting ability.

Avoid caffeine, alcohol, refined sugars, and possible food allergens, each of which can contribute to a stressful state. Eating regular meals in a relaxing atmosphere helps to promote healthy digestion (e.g. at a real table, no television, no car).

Relaxation can be as simple as sipping a warm drink while cozying up to a good book, taking an aromatic bath, listening to enjoyable music, or getting outside to garden. It can be something you do on your own or enjoy with others. Deep breathing exercises, visualization, yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, and massage are all other great examples of ways to help your mind and body let go of stress.

7-Minute Relaxation Exercise

1. Find a comfortable location and lie down on your back. Begin by taking 5 slow, deep breaths.

2. Focus your attention on your feet. As you inhale, gently tighten the muscles in your feet and hold for 8 seconds. Do not hold your breath. With a long breath out, slowly relax these muscles for about 20 seconds. Before moving on to the next set of muscles, breathe deeply again.

3. Next, focus your attention on the muscles in your legs. Tighten for 8 seconds, relax for 20 seconds, and take another deep breath. Continue the same process as you work your way up your body to your thighs, buttocks, stomach, chest, hands, shoulders, arms, neck, and face.

4. End with 5 slow, deep breaths.

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December 2010
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