Self care is so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.
~ Eleanor Brown
Relaxation and stress management- a widely known and used phrase with a relatively obvious meaning. However, in the busyness of life and the everyday expectations that we so regularly have to meet, do we really take time to reflect on what this means?
It is exactly because of this constant busyness, and many expectations that we have to meet, that most of us are in non-stop ‘fight or flight’ mode.
Symptoms of stress include muscle tension, headaches, low energy, fatigue, lethargy, and lack of sleep.
With continuous stress, our sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous systems are in overdrive, leaving us with constant elevated cortisol levels.
This is a good recipe for chronic low grade inflammation, which in turn, is a big driver for many chronic diseases. This includes mental illness like anxiety and depression, as well as autoimmune diseases, and even coronary artery disease. Furthermore, increased levels of cortisol can change a person’s metabolism. Long-term effects of a change in metabolism can include diabetes or high blood pressure.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), stress has been classified as the health epidemic of the 21st century. It is therefore very necessary for us to learn how to relax, and manage stress properly.
So let’s start by breaking the stigma of the necessity to relax. Relaxation and stress management techniques are not only applicable to individuals with anxiety, apparent major stress or chronic illness. It is very much applicable to healthy people and should be implemented as a lifestyle choice. When implemented as a regular practice in our everyday routine, it can have the benefit of enhancing and protecting health across one’s lifespan, prevent disease and ultimately contribute to future health and wellness.
The following are some relaxation and stress management techniques that can be implemented in everyday routine:
A first small step in the right direction is to put aside time for yourself on a daily basis, even fifteen minutes will make a difference. During this time you must consciously choose to relax. What exactly you do, is up to you, as long as it is something entirely for yourself…whether it is sitting in a garden, listening to music, or taking a relaxing bath. The only rules are that you may not feel guilty about taking time for yourself, and the activity may not involve an electronic screen.
This will look different for everyone. It can simply mean practicing being still, and noticing what is going on in your mind. Or it can be meditation of Scripture. Pondering on a single meaningful Bible verse, can have very profound effects on a person’s wellbeing if it is done regularly. Start with two minutes per day, and work your way up.
Taking a breath is the very first thing a baby does when he/she is born. It is a natural response and happens subconsciously. However, when we are stressed, that very natural response may become disrupted. Put some time out to breathe intentionally. Do breathing exercises, using the 3-4-5 breathing technique: Breathe in for three counts, hold for four counts, and exhale for 5 counts. Even two minutes per day will have beneficial effects. Make sure you breathe in through your nose and use your stomach instead of your chest. Become aware of your senses, and make sure you feel your diaphragm relax as you breathe out…
It’s not as bad as it sounds! Exercise can look different for everyone, whether it’s a run in the morning or very slow and simple stretches in the evenings. Research proves that exercise increases endorphins in our brain (our feel-good hormones) and feeds the body with more oxygen. Physical activity also creates a sense of release and “let go”. So do those stretches and “let go”!
Music and Art! Studies showed that when an individual engages in a creative act, it can produce a calming effect on the brain and body. A creative act can be seen as anything ranging from drawing, painting, singing, dancing, making crafts, decorating the house or even gardening. However, you do not have to be creative to engage in such acts. Research states that simply listening to music, closing your eyes and becoming present in the moment can have lasting effects on an individuals’ stress levels. This exercise provides both auditory and mental stimulation, creating a sense of “grounding” in the body. Singing proves to have the same effect, whether it is on pitch or not! This can be implemented with very small tasks during the day: sing in the shower, in the car on your way to work, hum while making supper, dance it out while you get ready in the morning or before bed in the evenings. Be creative!
It’s easy to dive into art when it is something that comes very naturally. But what do we do when drawing feels difficult and unnatural? Most see art as something we create, however, we tend to forget that art starts by witnessing. Look at the art around you-walk through the garden, take a stroll in the neighbourhood, observe a group of children playing and laughing…witness and become aware.
Keeping a gratitude journal is a simple, yet very effective way to redirect one’s thoughts from the negative to the positive. Doing this before going to bed, helps to shift the weight of problems and negative emotions.
This practice can of course be done in the form of praying too.
Giving yourself a break from the internet and social media regularly, can also greatly contribute to stress reduction.
An alarming statistic from the US, estimates that the average cell phone user touches their phone 2 617 times per day! To be constantly ‘contactable’ is a stressor, whether we want to know it or not.
This has become something we do not take for granted anymore since Covid 19 hit.
Isolation puts stress on our bodies, plain and simple. Levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, is higher in lonely people. Studies have shown that the effect of social isolation on our health is worse than that of being obese.
Therefore we have to cultivate and appreciate whatever social connection we have. One of the best ways we can make a habit of this is to sit down and eat around the dinner table with our loved ones. The conversations and social connection that flow from this practice, is priceless.
Debriefing intentionally and applying relaxation and stress management techniques doesn’t have to be another layer of tasks on your to do list. It can happen spontaneously and should be implemented in everyday routine. So take that step and intentionally improve your health and wellness. One breath at a time!
Dr Alma le Roux
E. Scott, Effective Stress Relievers for Your Life (2021)
L. Rachland, Ways to manage stress (2020)
A. Brown, Stress management techniques, strategies and activities (2020)
Rangan Chatterjee, The 4 Pillar Plan (2018)