Putting the Awareness in Stress Awareness Month
Right now, while you are reading this, no matter where you are, you can try one or more of these five techniques:
Breathing: Of course you are breathing, but paying attention to how you are breathing is the key to using your breath to relieve stress. When we are tense, we tend to take short, shallow breaths. Rather than trying to force yourself to take a deep breath, try just relaxing the diaphragm and breathing muscles and feel your lungs fill with air. Let your shoulders drop and your belly rise, and hold the breath for as long as it is comfortable before letting it flow out effortlessly. Take a few of these deep, conscious breaths and feel the tension melt away.
Mindfulness: Though mindfulness is a form of meditation, you don’t need to visit an ashram to learn how to do it. Mindfulness can be practiced anywhere and at any time, even while you are working. In fact, practicing mindfulness improves the quality of whatever you are doing, because it involves focusing on the present moment, without allowing your mind to roam and worry about the future or stress over the past. In her response to a question about mindfulness meditation, (please link to http://www.belleruthnaparstek.com/ask-belleruth/what-s-the-difference-between-mindfulness-meditation-and-guided-imagery.html) Belleruth explained that mindfulness meditation is a way of constantly bringing attention to our internal experience, and focusing on things like the sensation of breathing.
Puppies and kittens and babies, oh my! I first heard this exercise described by Dr. Mehmet Oz, but many practitioners have advocated it as a way of releasing tension, particularly when you are stressed or before you fall asleep at night. It involves allowing the mind to roam, but only to sweet thoughts that cause your heart to ‘melt.’ Kittens work for me, their little rattling purrs, their tiny, pink noses gently nuzzling and their soft fur. If you are not an animal fan, tune into how it feels to hold an infant or a loved one. Simply focus on anything that gives you this feeling of warmth or pure love and engage your senses to actually experience it. Simple, but it works. Try it.
Engage in nature: A few years ago, a group of people came up with the idea of hugging large trees, in order to feel the flow of energy they emit. They were laughed off the planet and the term ‘tree-huggers’ was coined to describe nature-loving free spirits. I say don’t knock it until you try it. If you just can’t go that far, step outside (despite the weather) or look out the window and find a cloud, bird, tree or flower. Even looking at a photo of nature will do (check out Cindy’s flower, above). Whatever it is you choose, just observe it, without labeling it. For most people, nature has a soothing effect and no one is certain exactly how that works. I think it helps us connect with the idea that we are part of something that is so much bigger.
Tense and release: There are numerous tricks from the energy medicine bag, and a favorite for stress relief is to mentally locate an area in your body that feels tense, tighten the muscles in or around that area, (squint, shrug your shoulders, make fists, etc.) hold for 15 to 30 seconds and release. Take a conscious breath and repeat.
There they are. Pick one or try all of them, in honor of April, which is officially National Stress Awareness Month. The operative word in this title is ‘awareness.’ According to the Health Resource Network (HRN), a non-profit health education organization, Stress Awareness Month is a national, cooperative effort to inform people about the dangers of stress, successful coping strategies, and harmful misconceptions.
Beyond the quick techniques, there are many ways to manage stress. The key is to identify the sources of stress in your life, do what you can to reduce them and find stress management strategies that work for you and fit with your lifestyle. Physical exercise is one of the most popular and effective ways to de-stress, and it works better when it involves an activity you enjoy, rather than something you must schedule and force yourself to do. This can include activities from yoga, dancing and tai chi to golf and speed-skating or simply taking a walk outside.
The ancient practice of meditation is being heralded by some as the new remedy for stress and anxiety. If you are serious about making meditation a regular practice, it’s good to get some form of instruction or join a sangha (a group of like-minded individuals who meditate together in timed sessions). In our 2014 Catalog and our Online Store we offer some excellent resources for those who want to learn meditation or deepen their practice. Our Introduction to Meditation Pack is excellent for beginners.
Another terrific stress-management tool is guided imagery. For a great example of its effectiveness, you can listen to or download a free 15-minute sample of Health Journeys’ Peaceful Perspective guided imagery for stress reduction and relaxation. Belleruth’s Relieve Stress audio program is among our best-sellers and we regularly hear from people who are happy with its results. Relaxation and Wellness is also an all-time favorite of people seeking relief from stress.
Wishing you peace, wellness and serenity, during April and beyond.