Another way to de-stress oneself is to recognize your physical signs of stress and implement physical relaxation practices.
Recognition of Signs of Stress
Stress relief requires first of all that you are able to know when you are beginning to feel stressed. Is it by feeling the sweat under your arms, moist hands or forehead? Headache? Pounding pulse? Aching shoulders or neck? Unusually stiff posture? Slow,deliberate speech? Red face? White fingers? Clenched fist? Shallow breathing? Do you feel faint or dizzy?
The earlier you realize you are feeling stressed, the earlier you can intervene.
Deep Breathing (Belly Breathing)
One of the most rapid methods of relief is to breathe deeply and slowly, using your diaphragm or stomach muscles to draw in the air to completely fill your lungs, and then to expel the air slowly and completely several times. This reduces the lactic acid in the blood stream and reduces the anxiety that results from an increase in lactic acid levels. If you deep-breathe too many times, you may feel dizzy or faint. Therefore, it is best to sit while doing this, if possible.
Secondly, you can deliberately loosen any tight muscles that you feel. This also helps reduce the production of lactic acid. You can learn to ease those tense and tight muscles by learning “Progressive Relaxation.” Take a few minutes to try this now.
Get yourself into a comfortable position. Now, beginning either at your head or your feet (it is easiest for me to begin at my feet) and tighten your toes (scalp) as tight as you can. H o l d it. H o l d it. FEEL THE TENSION.
Now, let the muscles go loose, r e l a x, FEEL THE DIFFERENCE, breathe, breathe.
Now, s l o w l y and progressively move up (or down) your body and alternately TENSE and r e l a x each set of muscles on the way. Give yourself directions slowly, in a low, calm and soothing voice.
With practice, you will learn to recognize the sensation of tension in your muscles and be able to relax them at will. It helps to practice this with your eyes closed after you have learned the main idea of the method.
Progressive Relaxation and Stress Inoculation are stimulus-response “behavioral” methods for reducing stress and altering mood and thoughts. They can help reduce fear, phobia, anger, anxiety, shame, and help reduce and prevent future panic episodes.
This lady is learning progressive relaxation with imagery. If you have been subject to extreme trauma, you should concentrate on the muscle and breathing exercise. Imagery may be conducive to flashbacks.
“I’ve been trying that relaxing exercise you did with me last time. At first I couldn’t feel nothing. Then when I squeezed my muscles as tight as I could and held it awhile before I let go, I could actually feel the difference. I never knew how to relax before. Laying down and breathing slow and thinking about laying out in the sunshine helped a lot too. Seemed like for a little while I could feel peaceful again. Now see if I’m doing it right. I shut my eyes and breathe slow. Then I tighten my eyes and face, and scalp as tight as I can and let them go. Oh, yes, I need to breathe in and out, deep. Then just go on down my whole body doin’ that, takin’ turns? It is the first time I knew anything I could do to help myself! With all the trouble I’ve had, I wish somebody had told me before!”
You should practice progressive relaxation until you can sense the relaxation effects readily before you go on to stress inoculation.
The stress inoculation technique is a third effective way to de-escalate emotions. Stressful emotions are tied to excessive hormone responses to repetitive events and to our thoughts about those events.
The principle used to reduce distressing emotions in stress inoculation is this: “rate,” “rank,” or “prioritize” disturbing events from mild to severe in several (5-10) steps. You need to write these steps on paper and label them #1, #2, etc according to how disturbing they are.
Do your Progressive Relaxation exercise.
Then, after achieving a relaxed, peaceful mind and body through Progressive Relaxation, allow your mind to contemplate the least distressful “step” of the event until it becomes bothersome. (Usually, you will notice your breathing is becoming faster, your muscles are becoming tight, thoughts are becoming negative, and emotions heighten.)
Then, force yourself to turn your mental focus back to your progressive relaxation exercise. Breathe deeply and evenly until your mind and body are again in a peaceful, relaxed condition with deep, even breathing and pleasant images and thoughts.
Turn your mind back to step one, and as able, continue alternating these “steps” and progressive relaxation periods up the list, until the most stressful event is tolerable for you, and you can return to the relaxed state at will.
The Stress Inoculation process may require several days to be able to contemplate the highest stressful step in the event and return to a peaceful relaxed state of mind and body.
Physical exercise is highly beneficial in reducing stress for those who are physically able. Both physical work and play can improve mood even when situations are not altered. You may not have a rug to roll up and take outside to beat like my grandmother did, but when she had me beat her rug, even though I wasn’t mad at anyone, I felt a tremendous flow of well-being, power, and strength before I was through beating the dust out of it and I was pleased to find the end result was quite relaxing.
You have learned several powerful ways to deal with stress through your breathing pattern, muscle relaxation, stress inoculation and exercise.