5 Techniques to Relax in the Face of Stress
At Team NeuroGum relaxation is as important a goal to us as having higher energy. Energy is no good if it's the kind that is stressful and wears your body down early in the day.
No chemical compound can reliably and safely keep your body in an optimal state during a stressful event, however, so we've put together some of the best ways to mentally de-stress yourself in the face of a challenge.
Body Scan Meditation
Body scan meditation is a method of getting out of your head and into the present moment and your own body, observing and eliminating the physical effects of stress.
One by one you take account of how each muscle in your body is feeling, and actively attempt to relax them.
To get started, find a comfortable surface to lie on your back upon, with your legs straight and arms relaxed at your sides. You can close your eyes if you find you enjoy that, keep them open if that doesn't relax you.
Start by thinking about each digit in your toes on one foot, and thinking about how they feel. From there move up to the tendons along the top of that foot, and the pads along the bottom. Think about your ankles, moving up the leg muscle by muscle, tendon by tendon, feeling what each feels like.
When you finish working up one leg, move to the next. Repeat this process for all the muscles you know in your torso and arms, and finish off with your head, thinking of your neck muscles, then those of your face, your forehead, your eyelids.
During this process, you can also do something called Muscle Relaxation Meditation, where with each muscle instead of just being aware of how it feels, you tense and relax the muscle actively but slowly. Try this with any muscles that you feel don't unwind just by focusing on them.
Mindfulness Meditation is a very popular technique for keeping a sense of presence. We actually covered getting started with Mindfulness Meditation on our blog, so if this summary sounds interesting, make sure to check it out for a full guide.
Mindfulness Meditation is a little bit more environmentally demanding than Body Scan. You'll want a comfortable place to sit with your back straight, and a quiet and distraction free place to focus.
Once you have it, set a timer, and choose something on which to focus. It doesn't matter what it is. It can be the place you grew up, a sandwich, or a beach. It can be your breathing, or your heartbeat. But what you're going to do is focus on that thing for the entire length of time in which you practice.
You will get distracted. That's ok. But when those thoughts and distractions enter your mind, actively push them away, and refocus on your image or feeling you have chosen. With time you will get better and better, as though strengthening a muscle, which will allow you to actively focus better in your daily life, which has been shown to reduce stress.
I won't spend too much of your time telling you about yoga. Instead I will just say that if you are the type that has a passive response to stress, or you normally lose energy and become depressed, then Yoga or another type of active technique will work better for you.
Yoga will relax your body in much the way that the Body Scan/Muscle Relaxation meditation methods do, but will also get you some exercise, which will cause natural relaxation to occur in your body.
My favorite way to get in a quick yoga session is the Sworkit App, which lets you choose an amount of time and a routine for that session. It's great for when you need just ten minutes of destressing with Yoga.
You're thinking it sounds lame, but it can be really helpful in getting your mind out of the stress zone and focused on relaxing your muscles.
Naturally the zones you can massage are a little limited, but you will be surprised how much good you can do yourself with a little self massaging.
I like to start with my hands, working the palms and fingers with my thumbs, alternating hand to hand, then the same with the forearms.
From there I like to skip up to the neck and shoulders, which it helps to roll as you massage, getting to every bit of the muscle.
Once you're done there, you can tap your fingers all over your forehead, then use your fingertips to make little circles around the rest of your face. Be careful not to apply pressure to your temple.
Finish it out my massaging or scratching your scalp.
If you've been playing along, just try and tell me that didn't feel pretty dang good considering it came from your own hands.
If Yoga wasn't quite active enough to really be your kind of stress reduction method, it's time to break out the tunes. Dance stimulates brain function and is the kind of exercise that doesn't feel like exercise.
Cut loose. Do the macarena. Do the casper slide. Get silly. Let the music guide your movement, and your movement lighten the mood. You can do this in your car if you're creative.
Dancing can let you express emotions that aren't verbal, and can help you limber up in much the same way Yoga can.
Those are my best techniques, you can tell me yours in the comments below!