Learn How to Relax.
I’d like to share with you a couple of my favorite relaxation techniques. I learned the first from reading the works of well-known and respected Functional Medicine practitioner and prolific author, Dr. Mark Hyman. He has a wonderful technique for reducing stress that I’d like to share with you. He calls it “pressing the pause button” on your life, and in a nutshell, he’s advocating a way to slow down your life, reduce stress, and improve the quality of your life—all in just minutes a day.
Sound good? I thought so too!
Dr. Hyman maintains that “healing, repair, renewal, and regeneration all occur in a state of relaxation.” 1 For a bunch of stressed out people who seem perpetually pushed by one demand on our time after enough, that can actually sound a bit discouraging. After all, if we had time to relax we wouldn’t be so stressed out! We’ll pop pills, tip back a bottle, or zone out in front of a TV, but these are not the best ways to relax—not at all. In fact, Dr. Hyman maintains that if you want to truly relax, you have to work at it.
Soft Belly Breathing
Dr. Hyman promotes pressing your pause button—whatever works for you—but lists some things that help him: exercising, yoga, massage, journaling, baths, and something he calls deep breathing or “soft belly” breathing.The beauty of soft belly breathing is that you can literally do it anytime, anywhere.
- While closing your eyes, place your hand on your abdomen and feel yourself relax your stomach muscles and body.
- Inhale slowly through your nose for a count of 5, breathing deeply into your abdomen and feeling it expand with your hand.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth for a count of 5, allowing your body to relax and release tension.
- Repeat at least 5 times or until you feel relaxed.
Dr. Hymen suggests doing this exercise in the morning when you wake up, before each meal (relaxation helps digestion), and before bed at night. Or anytime you’re stressed! The best part is that it takes only moments, and you can do it pretty much anywhere you are.
Progressive Relaxation Technique
The next is a lot like the soft belly breathing, except you may want to do it lying down (or sitting in a comfortable chair). This can be helpful for falling asleep, but it is also good for learning how to relax (push your pause button) while awake, so that’s why you may want to do it in a chair. The trick to this is progressively applying tension to specific parts of your body and then releasing it. For example, start by tensing the muscles in your lower limbs—your thighs, calves and feet. Squeeze as hard as you can for about 5 seconds, really feeling the tension in your muscles. Do your best to isolate the areas that you’re tensing, so try not tense up your lower back, etc. After tensing your muscles up for 5 seconds, let yourself relax. Let the tension you just created flow out of your muscles. It helps me to visualize it draining out of them like a liquid. Let the muscles become loose, limp. Pay very close attention to how those muscles feel and the difference between when you had them tense and now that they are loose. This is the key to progressive relaxation. Give yourself a few seconds to just feel that difference and really soak it in.
Once you have done one part of your body, move on, pausing perhaps 10-15 seconds between muscle groups. Perhaps do your hands and forearms next. Then your shoulders. Then your abdominals, back and glutes, etc., until you feel like you’ve done this tense/relax technique for all the muscle groups in your body. Repeat with each muscle group as needed until your whole body feels relaxed.
This process takes practice, and you will get more comfortable and confident with the process over time. The whole point is that you’re learning how your muscles feel when they’re relaxed and then consciously relaxing them when you wish to.
Work At Relaxing
These are just two techniques for relaxing and reducing stress. Be aware: being a couch potato is not a good stress reliever! You may think you’re zoning out and that it’ll do you some good, but it’s much, much better for you to engage in a physical activity, like light exercise, or to use some relaxation techniques like these. It takes a little intentional effort (aka “work”) to learn how to relax, as paradoxical as that seems. However, in today’s high stress world, these are very valuable tools for helping you deal with life’s demands.