By Erik Servia
Our world is jam-packed with stress. Now, more than ever.
As if the daily grind weren't enough, this novel coronavirus now has us right in the middle of a full-blown global health crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has had many businesses deemed non-essential and forced shut, Americans facing record high unemployment rates, and many folks feeling trapped with government mandated stay-at-home orders.
You're not alone.
Taking a time out to relax is extremely important, and you’re not going to be your best self each day if you're not giving relaxation the attention it deserves.
Letting your stress build up can lead to:
- Depression or anxiety.
- Anger, irritability, or restlessness.
- Feeling overwhelmed, unmotivated, or unfocused.
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much.
- Racing thoughts or constant worry.
- Problems with your memory or concentration.
- Making bad decisions.
- Physical health problems.
If your daily routine doesn’t include a process for relaxing, you’re doing yourself (and your family) a major disservice.
Sure, there's plenty of ways to relax that we practice every day. You may like curling up with a good book and a hot cup of tea. Maybe you've started dabbling in Aromatherapy. Maybe you like to meditate, or rock out to your favorite music.
These days, there's more and more medical research coming out on alternative therapies, showing us that there's more valid ways to unwind than we could ever imagine.
So, when you get bored of laying around in your jammies and binge-watching Netflix, here's a few strange and unusual ways to relax and de-stress you've never even considered!
Take a Cold Shower
“What,” you ask. “Taking a cold shower doesn't sound relaxing at all!”
Well, you're right.
While not exactly relaxing in and of itself, taking cold showers has been shown to reduce symptoms of stress and leave you feeling refreshed.
Cold water therapy has been used for centuries as a method of adapting our bodies to harsh conditions, thus becoming more resistant to stress. Exposure to cold sends waves of electrical impulses to your brain, activating your sympathetic nervous system and raising your blood levels of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline, increasing alertness, mental clarity, and energy levels while also inducing feelings of well-being and optimism.
Research has suggested cold showers can help relieve symptoms of depression, as well as:
- Improving circulation.
- Boosting the immune system.
- Reducing pain.
- Improving physical recovery.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
If you're stressed and anxious, you're muscles are probably tense most of the time. Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a relaxation technique used to relieve stress and insomnia, as well as reducing the symptoms of some types of chronic pain.
Introduced by American physician Edmund Jacobson in the 1930s, Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) involves alternating tension and relaxation in all of the body's major muscle groups. Numerous medical studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of PMR, from lessening the withdrawal symptoms of people trying to quit smoking, to reducing stress and anxiety levels in schizophrenia patients.
You can do it any where at any time and it definitely wouldn't hurt to give it a shot.
Here's how it works:
- While inhaling, flex one muscle group (starting with your toes) for 5 seconds to 10 seconds, then exhale and suddenly release the tension in those muscles.
- Give yourself 10 seconds to 20 seconds to relax, and then move on to the next muscle group (for example your calves).
- While releasing the tension, try to focus on the changes you feel when the muscle group is relaxed. Imagery may be helpful in conjunction with the release of tension, such as imagining that stressful feelings are flowing out of your body as you relax each muscle group.
- Gradually work your way up your body, contracting and relaxing each muscle group.
People suffering from insomnia often report that the practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation helps them fall asleep. PMR is also an excellent learning tool to help recognize signals your body may be telling you. With practice and time, you'll be able to identify and reduce the signs and signals of stress and tension in your body.
Adult Coloring Books
A relatively new craze that you may not have put much thought into, is coloring books for adults. Laying down on the living room floor with a box of crayons or colored pencils is no longer a pastime reserved for kids – more and more adults are discovering how relaxing it is to lose themselves in a colorful, abstract world of swirls and mandalas.
Psychologists say it has everything to do with refocusing our attention. Coloring requires you to focus your attention outside of self-awareness. It's a very simple act that takes your attention away from yourself and problems you may be facing, and forces you into the present-moment event. Our brains tend to relax when they are focused on a simple activity, rather than being disturbed by our own thoughts.
You also have the added boost of having created something when you’re done. It is hard to mess up and, even if you do, there is no real consequence. Renowned painter, Bob Ross, called those “happy little accidents.” You might not want to hang it on your refrigerator for the world to see, but at least you have a sense of accomplishment.
A 2006 study by Thomas Jefferson University found that art therapy helped to significantly decrease the symptoms of physical and emotional distress for women going through cancer treatment. Art therapy has also shown to be helpful to people dealing with depression, anxiety, addictions and trauma.
You know that feeling of clear-headed calm that washes over you when you listen to a pouring rain or a gentle breeze rustling through the trees? You can get that feeling any time with the help of sound machines. Recorded nature sounds can be found all around the web, or even apps for your phone. Find a sound that soothes you, pop in some earbuds, and let your stress melt away.
Seems strange that something as simple as a sound recording can actually improve your health, doesn't it? Well, there's plenty of medical research suggesting that it really works. A 2017 study by Brighton and Sussex Medical School found that nature sounds can physically alter the connections in our brains, reducing our body’s instinctual fight-or-flight response.
Dr. Cassandra Gould van Praag, lead author of the study, said:
“We are all familiar with the feeling of relaxation and ‘switching-off’ which comes from a walk in the countryside, and now we have evidence from the brain and the body which helps us understand this effect. This has been an exciting collaboration between artists and scientists, and it has produced results which may have a real-world impact, particularly for people who are experiencing high levels of stress.”
Stare at a Fire
Fire is one of the most incredible forces on Earth. Use of fire has long been considered a defining property of human intelligence, separating us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Whether it is a product of evolutionary adaptation or cultural conditioning, there is no doubt that fire has a profound effect on the human psyche.
In the early days of humanity, fire helped us stay safe in the darkness, provided warmth, helped with hunting and cooking, and kept predators and insects at bay. These comforts are instinctually with us, and research has shown that sitting near a crackling campfire actually lowers your blood pressure and improves your mental state.
Don’t have a fireplace? A candle works great, too! Even high-quality video of a fire will do the trick. There’s something primal and hypnotic about fire that makes it a wonderful tool for relaxation.
Play with Plants
The Japanese have used bonsai trees as an expression of Zen and object for meditation for over a thousand years – and for good reason. Plants are relaxing.
A 2015 study in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology concluded that interacting with plants (touching and smelling smelling them) can reduce physiological and psychological symptoms of stress.
“This is accomplished through suppression of sympathetic nervous system activity and diastolic blood pressure and promotion of comfortable, soothed, and natural feelings.”
Even the soil can help you keep stress and anxiety at bay. A 2019 study by University of Colorado at Boulder found that microbes present in soil, called Mycobacterium vaccae, function as natural antidepressants that stimulate your brain to produce more serotonin. This incredible finding has even brought researchers closer to developing a stress vaccine.
If that's not enough, having plants in your house also improves your air quality, and has even been shown to boost your brain power and physical recovery.
Do yourself a favor and add some green to your life - you'll feel better for it!
It's important that you create a routine that gives you time to relax at least once a day. The physical and psychological effects of stress are damaging to your body and mind, and get much worse the more you ignore them! There are plenty of ways to relax that you’ve never considered...
Give one of them a try and let us know how it works for you!
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