Aiming for a stress-free start to 2013

Posted on: 19th December 2012

Thanks to Phil for this end of year post

Bearing in mind that Christmas and the holidays leading into the New Year are not always a time of peace and tranquillity, I’ve been looking at ways that I can get in a better mood & feel more relaxed, when I need to. Here I’ve shared some of the methods that work for me, or that I know are effective for others. There is no one right way to relax, and everyone is different. The stresses we all face might be different too, but there are some useful principles here.

Firstly, make yourself comfortable, either sitting, feet flat on the floor, or lying down. Choose a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted. Start to breathe slowly and deeply. Tense and then relax each part of your body, starting with your feet and working your way up to your face. As you tense & relax each area, think of the warmth and heaviness in your head and arms and legs… and relax fully on your ‘out’ breaths.

Visualise if you can, your problems on paper, and see yourself fold them over and over, and put them in a box. Imagine the box flying away, at your command, until you need it. ‘Let go’ of any tensions, as you breathe out. Try to let your mind go empty, some people find it helpful to visualise a calm place from their life such as a garden or meadow, a mountain or a beach. Stay there a while, remember you can imagine months of time passing in 15 minutes of thinking. Have a great time! In 20-30 minutes, you’ll either be ready to get on with things, or have fallen asleep.

Music can be an effective tool in reducing muscle tension and calming your mind, and can keep you from sleeping too. Music that calls to mind a sentimental experience or psychological comfort, can aid in creating a calm effect. Choose a piece of music that has some nostalgic component to it, 60′s 70′s or 80′s? Like more recent stuff? Big choice. Listen to the music with your full attention. As you listen notice the different musical instruments, the lyrics (if there are any), and the tone and tempo of the music. Allow yourself to experience the warmth of the nostalgic feeling. Let your body grow heavier and more relaxed as you listen.

Those who experience physical tension when under stress might benefit from progressive relaxation or other physical techniques. Progressive relaxation involves tensing and releasing the muscles of the body, until your muscles feel relaxed. For shoulder tension, for example, you might raise your shoulders to your ears, straining the muscles of the neck and shoulders and holding that pose for say 20 seconds and then relax, allowing the shoulders to drop down and the muscles to relax. Repeat once or twice. Examples of other physical techniques include yoga, T’ai Chi, or swimming.

Mindfulness — creating a focus for your attention — is a technique that can induce calm and provide focus. Breathing is central to the practice of mindfulness, but there is a whole field of therapies based on it, while it’s roots are in Buddhism, so it might be worth exploring some more. You could also try freesound.org to make your own relaxation soundscapes, if you like using computers.

Brain food is another idea…feed yourself happy & relaxed. Brazil nuts contain Selenium as well as omega-3 oils. Beans and walnuts also have omega-3s, while mushrooms and fish have vitamin D, both important to the mood neurotransmitters like serotonin, which is the brain’s ‘happy’ trigger. Pumpkins, oats, carrots and tomatoes add to this effect too. Be sure to check with your doctor or dietician if you are going to change your diet radically though, as a balance is very important.

Wishing everyone a genial holiday season, and a happy & prosperous New Year!

Phil



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