When you’re able to identify the situations that trigger stress in your life, you can learn techniques for dealing with those situations more effectively. If not dealt with in a healthy way, stress can lead to a weakened immune system, loss of sleep, increased heart rate, high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease.
With the right stress-reducing techniques, you’ll not only be able to manage the harmful effects of stress on your mind and body, you’ll also be saving your energy for things that are more positive and productive in your life.
Remember, controlling stress is a lifelong process. Learning what triggers your stress is an important first step, along with recognizing that some stressors cannot be controlled or changed no matter how much you worry about them. The key is to incorporate relaxation techniques for managing stress and its effects on your body. Here are some to get you started:
Yoga and deep breathing
While yoga postures such as easy pose, cat pose and cow pose stretch will strengthen your muscles, the deep breathing techniques that accompany these poses are great stress reducers. In fact, proper yoga breathing — inhaling and exhaling deeply through the nose — can help reduce stress levels and relax the mind and body.
These yoga postures and breathing techniques can be performed by just about anyone:
Easy pose is a resting posture that focuses on breathing. Sit cross-legged on the floor with hands on the knees (or sit in a chair with feet on the floor) and close your eyes as you focus on your breathing. Yoga breathing is inhaling and exhaling through the nose. Spend a few moments bringing awareness to your breathing — drawing your belly in toward the spine as you begin to relax.
Cat pose and cow pose are often done at the beginning of class. These poses are combined help to warm up the muscles and promote flexibility of the spine. While on your hands and knees with toes curled under, begin breathing slowly in and out. Breathe out as you round the spine up and then reverse, breathing in as you drop your belly and gaze forward.
Savasana ends the yoga practice as a posture that promotes relaxation and reflection. Lie flat on the mat with legs resting on your mat about shoulder width apart. With your arms resting along the side of your body, begin to slow your breathing and relax your muscles. The physiological benefits of this type of deep relaxation include a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension. After 7 to 10 minutes of Savasana, roll to your side and bring yourself to a seated posture, placing your hands at heart center.
Visualization and guided imagery
Visualization and guided imagery involves using your imagination to help put your mind and body in a relaxed, stress-free state. The key is to use your imagination to experience pleasant thoughts, places or scenarios to ease away your body’s tension and stress.
Begin by closing your eyes and replacing negative thoughts with peaceful, relaxing images. These images can be of places you’ve experienced in the past, or can be someplace you’ve imagined going. Whatever your pleasant image is, make sure you use all of your senses for a full, soothing experience. You may be on a beach, experiencing the warmth of the sun on your body, the smell of the salty air and the sound of waves hitting the shore. Wherever you go in your mind, enjoy the experience and let go of the negative thoughts. When you open your eyes, the stress you felt will be replaced with a sense of calm and your body will feel relaxed.
Meditation connects the mind and body, producing a state of relaxation and tranquility. Meditation involves bringing your thoughts to the present moment, making yourself mindful of only what is happening right now. It can be practiced sitting, lying on the floor or even standing, depending on where you happen to be when you feel the need to relieve your stress. Close your eyes and focus your attention on the present as you discard distracting thoughts that crowd your mind and cause anxiety and stress.
Meditation brings about a sense of calm and balance, which lead to emotional and physical benefits. These benefits last longer than the time you spend meditating — they help you move through the day feeling calm, centered and at peace.
Take the next step:
Kari Smith, M.Ed., has extensive experience in stress testing and cardiac rehabilitation, as well as additional training in healthy lifestyle and weight-loss coaching. She is a yoga instructor at Domino’s Farms Phase III Fitness Center and is an educator in the Cardiac Rehabilitation program on stress management, guided imagery and breathing techniques for stress reduction and relaxation. She earned her master’s degree in exercise physiology from Wayne State University and her undergraduate degree in psychology from Michigan State University.
“21 Days to a Less Stressed You” is a three-week series on managing and minimizing stress in your life. The tips and advice included in the series, which are provided by the experts at the U-M Health System, are intended to help you combat the stress-related health issues so many of us face every day. Subscribe to the series here – and enter to win a Brookstone Tranquil Moments Sleep Sound Machine!
The University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is the top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit our website at umcvc.org.