The world has become a tense place. We often read, hear, and see things that frustrate and upset us. Unless we make a habit of helping our body relax, that tension builds and can make us sick. Let’s look at simple ways to help our body relax.
Progressive muscle relaxation: Do you know the difference between the way your muscles feel when you are tense and when you are relaxed? Often we are holding tension in our body and we don’t even realize it. Go here for a simple, seven minute exercise to help you 1) recognize how tension versus relaxation feels, and 2) to help you relax (especially if you are trying to go to sleep). While listening to the audio is helpful, once you have done it a few times you will probably be able to do it on your own, either lying down or sitting in a chair. This exercise is probably one of the most effective ones on this list.
Warm water: A lot of people use a relaxing bath to unwind. But if you don’t have the time (or a bath tub to stretch out in), a shower can be just as good. Use a soap that smells good to you, and get the water warm or hot enough to help your muscles relax. Where do you hold your tension? For many people it’s in their neck or back — let the hot water splash over those areas and relax the muscles. Close your eyes for a few moments and imagine the water washing away whatever situation has caused the tension.
A warm beverage: I’ve known people whose first response to stress is, “Let me fix you a cup of tea.” 🙂 There is something about that warm cup between your hands and the warm liquid going down your throat that triggers a relaxation response; even a cup of hot water will do the trick. Be aware that caffeine can actually add to tension and make us more jittery. Investigate beverages with no caffeine or that are decaffeinated (decaffeinated tea and coffee still has caffeine, just less than normal). Or save the caffeine for morning, and then after 2 pm switch to something decaffeinated or without caffeine.
Soothing music: This is not the sort of music you listen to while driving, or to exercise, do housework, or dance around the house. This music helps you relax, though everyone will have different preferences. This study found that the better sounds were harmonious, generally described as peaceful or serene. You probably don’t want to go for something with a heavy back-beat. 🙂 If you don’t already have music that helps you relax, go to something like Pandora Internet Radio and search around for calm music that appeals to you. Or check out the offerings at your favorite CD store.
Get out in Nature: This could be something like a walk in the woods, sitting in your car at the beach, or going out in your backyard. Go somewhere where there aren’t a lot of people noises . . . where most of what you hear are the sounds made by Nature (birds, wind in the trees, waves, etc.). If you live in the city or a suburb, you may have to get creative with this one. Go to a park. I have a friend who used to go for walks in the nearby cemetery. If you feel so inclined, take your shoes off. There’s something about contact with the Earth that drains away tension.
Breathe: Lie down and do some deep, slow breathing. Rest your hand on your belly and slowly breathe deep, so that you can see your hand moving up with your belly. Pause for a count of one, then exhale slowly, allowing the air to completely leave your lungs. Do this for five to ten minutes. Deep breathing will release tension and lower your blood pressure. (More here.)
Creative visualization: Think back to a time when you were alone, felt safe, and were absolutely relaxed. Maybe it’s lying on the sand at the beach, soaking up the sun and listening to the waves. Or use your imagination to create a place you like in your mind. Now imagine being there . . . imagine how it sounds, how it smells, what it looks like. Can you feel the grass, or the smooth sheets? Can you taste it? Spend 10 minutes there the first time, and then come back to it whenever you want to relax.
You owe it to yourself to take a bit of time each day — even if it’s just five minutes — to allow your body to relax. And if you do it when you go to bed, you are apt to sleep better.