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Try these techniques to banish daily stress

Not all stress is bad. It helps us meet deadlines, win that final point in a tennis match or run from impending danger. But when stress continues unabated it becomes hazardous to your health. With chronic stress, the body almost never completely relaxes. Increased levels of stress hormones elevate the heart rate and increase blood pressure; almost every biological system in the body is impacted as a response to prolonged stress. If there is any good news, it is that although we cannot always control the stressors in our lives, we can control our response by balancing our lives with stress-reducing strategies.

Exercise

Exercise decreases stress hormones such as cortisol to a more normal level, and the body's "feel good" endorphins are released. Focusing on the body's movements and appreciating the increase in energy and uplifting attitude that accompany exercise will help to maintain feelings of calm and optimism. Most any type of exercise lasting 30 minutes — no more than 60 minutes — will help to lower stress levels. Exercise can also improve the quality of sleep, which is often disrupted by stressful feelings.

Deep breathing

Slow, deep breathing stimulates a feeling of calmness. It encourages relaxation and has been scientifically proven to affect the heart, digestion and immune system. When you take deep breaths from the abdomen, rather than shallow breaths from the chest, you will be inhaling more oxygen. The more oxygen one breathes, the less tension and anxiousness is felt.

Meditation

Meditation slows one's breathing and heart rate. By sitting in a comfortable position for five to 20 minutes, focusing on a single thought, sound or on one's breathing, the mind is cleared. Ignore all distracting thoughts and continue with your point of focus.

Moving meditation

Tai chi, a gentle mind-body activity, provides constant motion with flowing, relaxing movement. By focusing on the movement, one focuses on learning to live in the present, replacing distracting thoughts. For stress relief, select classes that emphasize slow, steady movements and gentle stretching.

Progressive muscle relaxation

This involves tightening, then relaxing, each muscle group of the body. One can follow a prescribed set of movement or count to oneself. An example: Lying or sitting down, tighten muscles in the right foot (don't strain) for a count of 5, then release all at once and rest for a count of 10; repeat with left foot. You would then move slowly through the body: legs, hips, buttocks and more.

Daily stress busters

Learn to say no: Continuing to say "yes" when one's plate is already full is nonproductive and definitely a stress-enhancer.

Declutter: Reorganizing or cleaning cluttered spaces can have a calming, restorative effect on daily life.

All work, no play? Allow time daily for activities that bring peace and joy, whether it's reading, playing the piano, a warm bath or just being outside.

Accent the positive: Appreciate your blessings, including personal, positive qualities. Greg Hicks, co-author of Choosing Brilliant Health, says, "When you hold on to a positive thing, your brain, by design, overrides the negative."

If you are 50 or older and have not been exercising, check with your physician before beginning any exercise program. Trainer Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but cannot respond to individual queries. She can be reached at slafit@tampabay.rr.com.

. Your move

This month's exercises focus on strategies to cope with daily stress. Yoga instructor Shahram Ghalikar, 48, demonstrates the poses.

m Seated

side bend

Stretches and tones side muscles of the torso and increases flexibility of spine. Sitting comfortably on a pillow in a cross-legged position, inhale as you raise your right arm to ear level. Exhaling, slide left hand on floor, allowing torso, head and right arm to follow; take four to six deep breaths. Repeat on other side. Tip: Keep hips on floor.

m Goddess pose with support

Releases tight hips and stretches groin and inner thigh muscles. Lying on back, bend knees, allowing knees to fall open on two pillows, which will reduce pressure on hips and lower back; bottoms of feet should be together. Place hands on abdomen or out to sides, palms up. Allow abdomen to slowly rise and fall with each breath for three to five minutes. Tip: You might like another pillow under your head.

. Warrior 1

Opens hips and chest, and strengthens legs, back and shoulders; helps improve balance. Exhale as you step forward with left foot, right heel flat on floor. Looking forward, bend into left knee, knee over ankle. Inhale as you raise arms forward and overhead; take several deep breaths and return to original position. Repeat on opposite side. Tip: If your back is uncomfortable, shorten the distance between feet as this will take pressure off the lower back.

m Seal pose

Opens chest and reduces tension in lower back. Lying on stomach, relax legs and feet. Reach arms forward on mat, straightening them just enough to lift the torso a little off the floor. Hold for three or four breaths, then release and repeat several times. Tip: Do not force the chest lift. This should be a passive stretch.

Try these techniques to banish daily stress 03/22/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 5:30am]

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