Simple ways to deal with stress
Stress is a modern malady that’s impossible to avoid, but simple steps can help control it, notes FARZANA SHAKIR
With the holiday season well and truly behind us, many have gone back to the familiar grind of family and work routines. Unfortunately, as responsibilities return, so do the stresses and anxieties of everyday life. In today’s frenzied lifestyles that we live, everyone is under some kind of nervous tension. Whether you’re a housewife, a corporate worker, a student, a business owner or a carer, stress is omnipresent in whatever you do. So in order to manage this common affliction of our times, it is essential to begin preventive measures before stress reaches a stage where self help is no longer an option.
If we can integrate a few healthy habits and basic social attitudes in our daily lives, there’s a good chance the stress demons will leave us well nigh alone. To start with, let’s try getting enough sleep, making a little time to pamper ourselves like indulging in a relaxing soak (think aromatherapy oils!), maintaining a social network of friends who will listen when we need venting (nothing de-stresses like letting it off your chest!), exercising moderately, sustaining a healthy physical relationship which allows for lots of hugs and cuddles, and eating a balanced diet.
If however, you do feel strained under certain situations, there are several things you can do to relax.
If you’re unable to remove yourself from a stressful situation like when you’re driving or are in an important meeting, breathing exercises can be your saving grace.
This basic bodily function works wonders in releasing tension and calming the mind. If you’re unable to remove yourself from a stressful situation like when you’re driving or are in an important meeting, breathing exercises can be your saving grace. They can make you feel better straight away by oxygenating your blood to help wake up the brain and relaxing the muscles. There are many different breathing exercises you can try, but a quick and easy one involves slowly inhaling through your nose and counting till five in your head while sitting or standing in a relaxed position. Then, exhale from your mouth and count to eight as the air leaves your body. Remember to engage in a more relaxed way of breathing by letting your abdomen expand outward rather than raising your shoulders as you breathe in, allowing the lungs to be filled more fully with fresh air. Repeat this exercise several times to release tension.
Progressive muscle relaxation
PMR works by tensing and relaxing the muscle groups in the body to relieve tension and leaves you feeling calm in no time. We all have tried the stress-busting technique of clenching and releasing our fists. To take these benefits further start by tensing all your facial muscles into a scowl, hold this contorted expression for ten seconds and then relax completely for ten seconds. Repeat with the neck, shoulder and arm muscles, etc. As you practice PMR regularly it becomes easier to de-stress more quickly.
It’s a proven fact that any activity that uses your physical energy results in relaxing the muscles and reducing stress.
If you are feeling emotionally stretched in a situation, it is liberating to give yourself a mental break. Snatch a few moments of peace and quiet, and treat yourself to visualization and guided imagery to restore your mind to its optimal level. Meditation is an extension of breathing exercises in which the brain enters a state similar to sleep, but with added benefits like the release of certain hormones. The mental focus remains on nothingness to discourage the mind from working overtime, thus decreasing stress levels. One basic meditation technique involves sitting in a comfortable position and thinking of nothing. This could be easier said than done, but practice will get you there. The idea is to quiet the mind. You can begin with considering yourself as an observer of your thoughts which will invariably creep in, particularly at the start of the session. Listen to the thoughts but don’t delve on them, let them go. Think of yourself as an outsider watching the thoughts materialize and fade away. As you master the technique of quieting your mind, stress-busting will become much easier.
Exercise is by far the best way to combat stress. It’s a proven fact that any activity that uses your physical energy results in relaxing the muscles and reducing stress. It can provide an outlet for wrestling with frustrations and worries. There are a variety of different exercises you can engage in depending on your physical fitness and the availability of time and means. The easiest would be a quick walk in the park, a run around the block or a jog down the street if you’re keen on the outdoors, otherwise a treadmill is a good option as well. These exercises increase the amounts of ‘feel good’ hormones like endorphins and serotonin in the brain, making you feel better instantly. They relieve muscle strain and lower anxiety by metabolizing adrenaline. Maintaining a good posture and aiming to exercise at least four times a week gives the best results and keeps stress at bay.
Yoga, tai chi and qi gong
These gentle techniques combine the benefits of exercise and meditation to restore peace and calm to the mind, and get rid of tensions by letting go of negative energies. Initially, you would require some training to properly practice and benefit from these, but there are DVDs and books to help even if you’re unable to join training sessions.
Foods to stave off stress
Include some of the foods listed below in your diet to remain stress free.
· Fresh fruits like blueberries, oranges, bananas and avocados are rich in vitamin C, potassium and fibre, which are known to reduce stress levels.
· Vegetables like spinach, broccoli, kale and sweet potato are loaded with vitamins that helps reduce stress
· Dried fruit and nuts like almonds, apricots, pistachios and walnuts contain vitamin B and E, plus magnesium, which is a muscle relaxant.
· Meats like turkey and fish like mackerel, tuna and salmon combat stress.
· Low fat milk and yoghurt provide calcium for proper nerve impulses.
· Wholegrain and brown rice are serotonin producers