30 QUICK WAYS TO RELAX
I know things are getting out of control on the stressed front when I wake up in the morning and it feels like I’ve got an exam. You know that feeling? When you try and stretch the nervousness out of your toes but it just won’t go away. The last few weeks have been incredibly pressured; juggling deadlines and presentations, enduring scary flights in high winds and managing quite a lot of change. A little bit of panic works for me; it fires me up and drives me on. But it’s when the exam feeling comes that I know I need to dig deep and re-calibrate to get some balance back.
Thing is, I’m not great at relaxing. So I set myself a challenge to learn 30 ways to relax – giving me a toolkit of one tip a day for the month. I’ve shared them here so hopefully you can benefit from a couple of these beauties too. Thanks to all my friends who contributed. Your input was, as ever, brilliant.
- Do the 4-7-8 breathing method to trigger deep relaxation. Place the tip of your tongue on the back of your two front teeth. Breathe in deeply through your nose for a count of four, hold for seven and breathe out through your mouth for a count of eight. This specific technique lowers both blood pressure and your heart rate.
- Hug your son, daughter, wife, husband, mother, father, friend or even a stranger. Quite simply, hugs trigger happiness. They lower blood pressure and help reinforce a sense of belonging.
- Chew Just a few minutes of chewing can reduce anxiety and improve your mood. We’ve been doing this for centuries – luckily we can unwrap a Wrigleys rather than chewing tree resin, like the Mayans had to do!
- Read a book or a magazine; even if it’s only for a few minutes. Research has proven that reading works better and faster than other relaxation methods to calm frazzled nerves. Because the human mind has to concentrate hard to read, the distraction eases tensions in your muscles and heart. You only have to read for six minutes to slow down your heart rate.
- Scream. Head to the beach. Check there isn’t anyone nearby before letting rip! Then take a deep breath and yell at the ocean. The pounding of the waves will swallow the noise you make. Shout out all the stuff that’s wrong, making you angry or worrying you. The discharge of negativity leaves room for more positive thoughts to take its place.
- Give yourself a quick hand massage. Apply some hand cream and focus at first on the base of the muscle under the thumb to relieve stress in your shoulders, neck and scalp. Massage triggers the relaxation response; an involuntary yet predictable response of the nervous system to touch.
- Cook The process of creating, cooking and then eating is the perfect antidote to stress. Engage all the senses by looking, touching, smelling, listening and tasting to relax and re-charge.
- Run a bath and have a long soak in warm bubbles with a few drops of lavender oil. The hot water increases your body temperature and relaxes your muscles.
- Brush your hair. 100 strokes a day really does help. It’s the repetitive motion that helps your body relax. And it also feels lovely so a double whammy!
- Chomp on chocolate. Yep, just a square of it can calm your nerves. Ideally, make it the dark variety because it is known to regulate levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your body.
- Simply breathe in and out consciously. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to keep your shoulders down and relaxed, and place your hand on your stomach – it should rise as you breathe in and fall as you breathe out to ensure you are breathing deeply.
- Sip green tea. It is a source of L-Theanine – a chemical known to help relieve stress by inducing a relaxing effect without causing drowsiness.
- Sleep. We are born with the instinct to relax and sleep when our bodies or minds need a break. Even if you can’t sleep in the day, rest your head on a pillow for a few minutes and imagine it is a sponge soaking up all your worries.
- Tense and relax. A great tip from MIND (mind.org.uk) – Lie down or sit with your back straight and your feet on the floor. Close your eyes or focus on a spot in the distance. Start by clenching your toes as much as you can for a few seconds then releasing them. Notice the difference between the two feelings. Match this to your breathing. Tense your muscles as you take a deep breath in, and relax as you breathe out. Move up your body, clenching and relaxing each muscle. Take time to notice any parts of your body that feel tense, tight or tired. You can repeat if you still feel tense. Take a moment to relax, then slowly and gently begin to move. When you feel ready, stand up slowly.
- Cry. For many, a good cry is a guaranteed way to relax. It releases toxins, clears your mind and helps you concentrate; leaving you in a far better state to tackle difficult and stressful situations.
- Talk to someone. Find someone you like and trust and feel comfortable talking to. By talking to someone, you formulate your thoughts and stop your mind spiraling out of control. Talking on the phone can reduce the discomfort you might feel sharing your innermost thoughts in person.
- Count to ten and then back again. Totally concentrating on this stills your mind immediately by taking it off the issues that are bothering you; slowing your heart rate and enabling you to focus.
- Laugh. It’s one of the more fun ways to relieve stress. Laughing hard increases blood flow and reduces anxiety. It’s also good for reducing pain and increasing immunity. It’s hard to laugh when you are stressed out beyond belief so for a trigger, head to YouTube and type in ‘funniest videos’ and you’ll be served up an endless supply.
- Sing. Singing triggers endorphins that flood your body and have a dramatic effect on your heart rate. By forcing you to breath in a more controlled way it mirrors yoga breathing; so you get to relax without having to strike a difficult pose!
- Have a spoonful of honey. It helps reduce inflammation in the brain, helping fight depression and anxiety.
- For many, prayer and ‘handing over’ their worries to God helps them manage stressful situations. For others, the act of ‘writing a letter to the universe’ can help. I think the principle is the same – by handing over your worries and fears, you shift your energy. The process of articulating your worries to the ether helps release feelings of hopelessness and desperation, leaving room for a more positive mindset.
- Try aromatherapy. Keep a small bottle of essential oil to hand – lavender and tea tree oil are particularly good. Put a few drops in the palm of your hand and breath in the aroma. It triggers smell receptors in your nose that connect to your brain and help regulate emotions.
- Pull on your trainers and go out for a run. The endorphins you release will kick in pretty quickly and trigger a change of mind set. Running is known to clear the mind, motivate and boost confidence.
- Dance. Pump up the volume and crack out some tunes. Best for me is Groove Armada’s ‘I see you baby….’. I’ve made an anthem mix on Spotify that is a guaranteed stress buster.
- Write it down. Just collating your thoughts and putting them down on paper helps organise them and make them seem less intimidating. Don’t edit, just write. It’s brilliant for clearing out all the clutter that’s filling your head
- Colouring helps you feel relaxed by distracting you from worrying. Take some paper and a pencil and draw a circle that fills most of the page. Now keep drawing. Fill it with a pattern and try not to let your crayon leave the page. Don’t worry about creating a finished picture, just keep going. Focusing helps quieten the mind, like meditation.
- Switch off the screens and look out of the window. Really look at what’s in front of you. The wind in the trees. The raindrops dripping down the window. The people walking by. De-teching rests the eyes and helps you be in the present for a valuable few minutes.
- Smell the flowers. Different smells can change your mood and it’s virtually impossible to feel angry or upset if you smell roses.
- Walk the stress out of your system. A quick stroll round the block gives you precious time alone to gather your thoughts. Aerobic exercise of any kind has the power to calm nerves and improve a bad mood.
- Drink wine… sadly this comes with the huge caveat: in moderation! Red wine in particular is good for your heart with healing qualities that relax and stimulate your cardiovascular system.
Have you got any other tips for relaxing? If so, please share. I’d love to hear them.