When undergoing a lot of stress, it’s important to get plenty of rest, exercise, and eat a healthy diet. It’s also helpful to practice active relaxation techniques – especially when having a difficult day. Here are five delightful and sometimes surprising ways to relax, relieve stress and improve your mood.
- Adopt a pet – Our furry friends give us unconditional love, and are always there when we need them. Just snuggling up with my cat in my lap relaxes me. Did you know that pets are good for your health? During times of stress, relating to a pet can even lower your blood pressure.
- Listen to your favorite music – At the end of a stressful workday, listening to your favorite music elicits feelings of joy. Music not only reduces anxiety and boosts our mood, but also helps us sleep better (which is another stress-reducer).
- Take a nap – According to Weill Cornell Medical Center, a mid-afternoon nap can help improve mood, memory, and learning – and it won’t interfere with night-time sleep. If you have the flexibility in your day to take a cat nap, do it. Snoozing for just 20 minutes improves alertness and performance without leaving you feeling groggy.
- Take a nature walk – Spend time outdoors in natural settings to relieve anxiety. Surprisingly, as little as five minutes a day of walking in a city park, cycling, gardening, or other outdoor activity can boost your mood and sense of well-being (according to a study from the University of Essex, England). When I worked at HP, I would take a walk outside along the par-course during my lunch hour. I’d come back to work refreshed and ready to tackle my work again.
- Have sex – If you feel like you’re too tired to have sex after a long, hard day, think again. Sex has many benefits. Sex causes the brain to release endorphins, the feel-good chemicals that act as painkillers and reduce anxiety. What’s more, sexual activity is associated with lower levels of depression, according to a study in the journal Society and Mental Health.
Pick your favorite idea and try it out the next time you need to relax and unwind after a tough day. You’ll be delighted with the difference it makes.
For ideas on managing your stress during the work day, listen to Managing Workplace Stress CD.
You just get off the phone with an irate customer who yells at you for not receiving her order in time for a major event. You’re feeling very tense and stressed out right now. What do you do? One of the quickest and easiest ways to counter stress is available to you at any time –- which is breathing.
When we become stressed, we tend to breathe shallowly from the chest. The antidote to this is deep breathing from the belly. Studies show that as little as one full breath starts to turn tension into relaxation. With just a half a dozen deep breaths your body can be in a state of relaxation.
Try it out for yourself.
Make yourself comfortable in your chair, and plant your feet firmly on the ground. Take several long, slow, deep breaths, breathing in fully and exhaling slowly. Close your eyes, and allow your breath to find its own natural rhythm. Become aware of your stomach, as it expands on the in-breath and relaxes and contracts on the out-breath.
Count to five on the in-breath and say “relax” to yourself as you slowly exhale. If you’re distracted and your minds wanders from counting, then simply notice the distraction like clouds floating by, and return to focus on your breathing.
Next, bring your attention to the area of your body where you experience tension or tightness, and imagine that area releasing and relaxing each time you exhale. Continue focusing on your breathing and releasing tension until you feel very relaxed.
Then, when you’re ready, open your eyes, and return fully alert to the present moment.
Use this relaxation technique whenever you’re feeling especially tense – at the office, in your car, or at home. You’ll find that in a matter of minutes you can let go of tension (and forget about that irate customer!).
After a particularly stressful day at the office, do you find yourself feeling tense and uptight? Many of us carry that tension in our muscles, particularly in our neck and shoulders. At times like these, it can be difficult to unwind and relax. That’s when we fantasize about having a full body massage from a professional masseuse! But who has the time and money for that? Here’s a great way to help you relax and release the tension in your muscles. You can do this on your own and it only takes five to ten minutes.
This muscle relaxation technique involves systematically going through the body and tensing and then relaxing each muscle group. You can do this either sitting comfortably in a chair or lying down in a comfortable position (without crossing the legs). Tense each muscle group for about five seconds. Close your eyes and breathe deeply throughout this exercise. As you exhale, let go of the tension and release it completely. Experience the muscle as totally relaxed and lead heavy. Begin with the top of the head and progress downward to focus on all the muscles in the body. Be sure to include the forehead, ears, eyes, mouth, neck, shoulders, arms and hands, chest, belly, thighs, calves and feet. If you have limited time, you can do this exercise for just certain muscle groups. Be sure to focus on those muscle groups in which you feel the most tension. After relaxing your muscles, continue to breathe deeply and notice any remaining tension in the body. Let it soften and wash away as though a wave were washing over you. Then enjoy the resulting sense of peace and relaxation!
You’ve just hung up the phone with an irate customer who “read you the riot act” for not receiving his order on time. You’re feeling uptight, tense and stressed out! What do you do? Do you take it out on your co-worker who stops by your desk to ask a question? Or do you find a way to calm yourself?
These are the occasions in which we wish we were someplace else – like on vacation where we’re laying on the beach on a remote island. Well, you can go there – if only in your mind. Visualization is a great way to relax yourself. You can take a little vacation in your mind for a few minutes, and come away feeling refreshed and revitalized.
Try this exercise. Shut your eyes, and take a slow, deep breath. As you breathe in, feel the tension in your body. As you breathe out, imagine the tension flowing out of your body. Take several deep breaths until your body feels completely relaxed. Now let your mind go back to a time and place in which you felt totally relaxed. It may be a favorite vacation spot, a childhood experience, or special time spent with a loved one. Relive that experience as you continue to breathe deeply. Transport yourself to that time and place. See yourself in your imagination doing what you did then – seeing the sights, hearing the sounds, and smelling those smells. Mentally relive that previous time and place until you feel wonderful relaxation wash over you. When you’re ready, open your eyes and come back to the present time.
I’ve used this exercise when I’ve felt like I couldn’t take it anymore and needed a break. It helped refresh me so I could focus on work again. So the next time you’re feeling tense and upset, take a little vacation in your mind. It will do you wonders!
If you’d like to learn more relaxation techniques you can do in the moment, then listen to “Managing Workplace Stress” CD.