The first Wednesday in November each year is National Stress Awareness Day
We all know what it’s like to feel stressed – being under pressure is a normal part of life. But becoming overwhelmed by stress can lead to mental health problems or make existing problems worse.
National Stress Awareness Day is a great opportunity to take a moment to think about our wellbeing and find advice or support on managing stress. To effectively combat stress, you need to activate your body’s natural relaxation response. For many of us, relaxation means flopping on the couch and zoning out in front of the TV at the end of a stressful day. But this does little to reduce the damaging effects of stress. We advise that you need to activate your body’s natural relaxation response, a state of deep rest that puts the brakes on stress, slows your breathing and heart rate, lowers your blood pressure which brings your body and mind back into balance. You can do this by practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, rhythmic exercise, yoga, or visualised meditation. Here are 8 tips to help you relax to help relieve stress.
1. Guided Visualisation- 5-10 mins
Visualization, or guided imagery, is a variation on traditional meditation that involves imagining a scene in which you feel at peace, free to let go of all tension and anxiety.
Have a look at or YouTube channel for some examples:
Mindfulness Meditation- 10-15 mins
Using mindfulness to stay focused on the present might seem straightforward, but it takes practice to reap all the benefits. When you first start practicing, you’ll likely find that your focus keeps wandering back to your worries or regrets. But don’t get disheartened. Each time you draw your focus back to the present, you’re strengthening a new mental habit that can help you break free of worrying about the past or stressing in the future.
A Basic Mindfulness Meditation
- Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted or distracted.
- Sit on a comfortable chair with your back straight.
- Close your eyes and find a point of focus, such as your breathing—the sensation of air flowing into your nostrils and out of your mouth or your belly rising and falling—or a meaningful word that you repeat throughout the meditation.
- Don’t worry about distracting thoughts that go through your mind or about how well you’re doing. If thoughts intrude your relaxation session, don’t fight them, just gently turn your attention back to your point of focus, without judgment.
This is a good exercise to do every day or every other day, as the more often you do it, the more mindful you will become.
- Rhythmic Movement- as long as required.
The idea of exercising may not sound particularly soothing, but rhythmic exercise that gets you into a flow of repetitive movement can produce the relaxation response. Examples include: running, dancing, walking and swimming. Take a look at some of our dance videos on DanceBugs to help with rhythmic movement.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation- 10 mins
Progressive muscle relaxation is a two-step process in which you systematically tense and relax different muscle groups in the body. With regular practice, it gives you an intimate familiarity with what tension—as well as complete relaxation—feels like in different parts of your body. This can help you react to the first signs of the muscular tension that accompanies stress and as your body relaxes, so will your mind. Progressive muscle relaxation can be combined with deep breathing for additional stress relief.
- Breathing Techniques- 5 mins
Breathing techniques are a very good exercise for stress relief. They’re one of those ‘golden’ stress relief strategies that work simply, easily, and are effective for virtually everyone. Breathing exercises can be used to reduce physical stress and aid relaxation at any time. However, there are some times in which breathing exercises — on their own or in conjunction with other stress relief strategies — are the best choice, and there are other times that other strategies are more effective.
Calming Breath – 478 (really good for helping you sleep)
- Sit or stand in a comfortable position
- Empty the lungs of air
- Breathe in quietly through the nose for 4 seconds
- hold the breath for a count of 7 seconds
- exhale forcefully through the mouth, pursing the lips and making a “whoosh” sound, for 8 seconds
- repeat the cycle up to 4 times
- Self-Massage- 5 mins
You’re probably already aware how much a professional massage at a spa or health club can help reduce stress, relieve pain, and ease muscle tension. What you may not be aware of is that you can experience some of the same benefits at home or work by practicing self-massage, or trading massages with a loved one. Try taking a few minutes to massage yourself at your desk between tasks, on the couch at the end of a hectic day, or in bed to help you unwind before sleep. To enhance relaxation, you can use aromatic oil, scented lotion, or combine self-message with mindfulness or deep breathing techniques.
- Simple Stretches- up to 20 mins, recommended to relaxation music.
People often avoid performing office stretches because they are concerned that they will appear silly to their co-workers. There are several stretches that are not only effective, but can also be camouflaged so as not to appear out of the ordinary. Be sure to perform them regularly during the day in order to achieve optimal results.
- Neck Stretch
A side neck stretch is a great way to keep you energized and alert at work. To do this exercise, start by sitting tall in your chair with your head directly over your shoulders and your shoulders directly over your hips. Take a few deep breaths, and slowly lower your right ear to your right shoulder. You should feel a stretch along the left side of your neck. For a deeper stretch, bring your right hand to the top of your head, and gently pull the head down toward the right shoulder. Hold the stretch for at least 15 seconds before switching to the opposite side. Do another complete set of the stretch in order to achieve optimal results.
- Shoulder Stretches
Eagle – This is perfect for relieving tension in your shoulders. Stand with your feet together. Stretch your arms out with your palms facing up. Take one arm over the other (making an ‘X’), bring the bottom arm up towards your face and twist the wrist to try to get the hands together. Touching the arm if you cannot get the hands together, if perfectly fine. You should feel the stretch across the shoulders. You can progress this stretch further by gently lifting the arms up. Repeat on the other side.
- Chest stretch
An easy stretch that anyone can do almost anywhere. Stand straight with your legs shoulder width apart and your head up looking straight forward. Reach your hands behind your back and interlock your fingers, before pulling back your shoulders and raising your clasped hands away from your back as far as you can until you feel the stretch in your chest. Hold this position for around 30 seconds and slowly return to the starting position.
- Back Stretch
A back stretch makes another good stretch for office workers. Sitting in your chair all day can cause major back pain, and this stretch can help to alleviate some of that pain. Start by bringing your palms together in front of your chest with your elbows completely extended. Lace your fingers together, and then flip your palms out so that the palms are now facing away from your body. Slowly reach your arms up towards bringing them overhead, so your hands are reaching for the sky. Hold the stretch for 15 seconds, rest and repeat another time.
Cross arm stretch: Sit/stand with a straight spine and bring your left arm across the front of your body at about chest height. Support your left arm with the elbow crease of your right arm or use your right hand to hold your left arm. Stretch out your shoulder and continue to face forward. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
- Oblique stretch – half moon
Stand with your feet hip width apart, take your arms up in the air and join your hands together. Gently lean over to the side, keeping your hands together, then bring yourself back to the centre and repeat on the other side.
- Hamstring Stretch
A hamstring stretch is a great, easy exercise that can be done almost anywhere and is guaranteed to make you feel energized and alert. Start by standing tall with your feet under your hips and spaced approximately one foot apart from each other. Make sure your toes are facing forward and your knees are soft and not pushing backwards. Take a few deep breaths, and as you exhale, slowly bend from the waist. Allow your arms to reach down towards the ground, resulting in a stretch along the back of your upper legs. Hold this pose for fifteen seconds, before taking a short break and coming to an upright position. Do another repetition of the hamstring stretch in order to achieve optimal results. Anyone with high or low blood pressure should keep their heads higher than their hearts and use a chair for stability.
- Body Scan- 10-15 mins
This is a type of meditation that that focuses your attention on various parts of your body. Like progressive muscle relaxation, you start with your feet and work your way up. But instead of tensing and relaxing muscles, you simply focus on the way each part of your body feels, without labelling the sensations as either “good” or “bad”.
Learning the basics of these relaxation techniques isn’t difficult, but it takes regular practice to truly harness their stress-relieving power. Try setting aside at least 10 to 20 minutes a day for your relaxation practice.
Set aside time in your daily schedule. If possible, schedule a set time once or twice a day for your practice. If your schedule is already packed, try meditating while commuting on the bus or train, taking a yoga or tai chi break at lunchtime, or practicing mindful walking while exercising your dog.
Make use of smartphone apps and other aids. Many people find that smartphone apps or audio downloads can be useful in guiding them through different relaxation practices, establishing a regular routine, and keeping track of progress.
Expect ups and downs. Sometimes it can take time and practice to start reaping the full rewards of relaxation techniques such as meditation. The more you stick with it, the sooner the results will come. If you skip a few days or even a few weeks, don’t get discouraged. Just get started again and slowly build up to your old momentum.