So you feel like you need to relax.
Relax, eh? How do you do that? What does it mean to relax?
To really understand the term relax, you have to understand its opposite… Stress. Stress—a small word for something that can cause so many problems. We all try to avoid it as much as possible. We try to relax, to not let things “get to” us. Stress can cause us to be irritable, moody, depressed, and even angry, and it can also cause physical disruptions in the body—such as hair loss, impotence, muscle tension, headaches or migraines, back and neck pain, diarrhea or indigestion, menstrual problems, worsening of existing medical problems, and trouble sleeping. There have also been studies showing that too much stress can even lower the strength of the immune system.
So what is stress?
Stress is an organism’s (the body’s) reaction to surrounding demands and pressures.
My old psychology teacher always emphasized, however, that stress is largely caused by the perception that we cannot meet those pressures and demands. She insisted that this perception disrupts homeostasis, the balance of the body, and that, in order to counteract this unbalance, one needed to know various techniques to relax. A key issue in the lecture was the effects of stress on sleep habits—which was quite vital to the eyelid-drooping, head-nodding college students in the side and back rows of the classroom.
Long story short, stress makes it difficult for you to fall asleep and or stay asleep. While this was my first class in my first year of college and I certainly can’t remember the entire three or four (very long) slides the instructor had dedicated to this topic, I did manage to dig up five useful tips to improve your Jiggly-Puff dozing on those nights when the stress just won’t back off and let you sleep.
The method of relieving stress is a process called the relaxation response. It’s a person’s ability to cause their own body to send certain brain signals and release different hormones or chemicals to slow your muscles and organs and increase blood flow to your brain. You can achieve the relaxation response using some of the methods/techniques below. In each of these techniques, effort must be made. You cannot simply expect to do each technique and get results without thinking about it.
Cultivating the relaxation response, contrary to popular belief, is not laying back and watching t.v. or reading a romance novel. The relaxation response is a biological process that needs your full attention in order to occur. You must have a certain amount of mindfulness—which, in meditative practices, means to be aware of the present, of what’s happening now, instead of worrying or fretting about what happened last night or last week, or what will happen tomorrow or next month. Whatever the technique you decide to use, be sure to keep your mind focused on the present, and the sensations of what you are attempting to do.
Technique #1: Deep Breathing
Deep breathing is a very commonly used relaxation technique. It’s simple, easy, and does not require any special equipment or serious exertion of any sort. Breathing deeply is a basic relaxation technique in and of itself, but it is also used in combination with other techniques. All that is needed for a deep breathing exercise is some time and a quiet place.
Although breathing deeply itself is quite simple obviously, there are a few things you can do to improve the relaxation experience provided by the practice. Sit up straight and comfortably, breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. Breathe deeply enough so that your breaths are long and drawn out, because the shorter the breath, the more tense and anxious you are, and the longer the breath, the more relaxed you can become. Breathe through your abdomen, if sitting up, place your hand on your stomach—your hand should rise and fall. If laying down, you can put a book or some other object on your stomach to be sure that you are breathing correctly.
This technique can also be used in conjunction with most of the other techniques listed here.
Technique #2: Guided Imagery
A technique used by many psychologists, guided imagery or visualization is the process of envisioning a comfortable, relaxing, and soothing place, and putting yourself mentally into that place as much as you can.
Vital to the effectiveness of this technique is the detail that you put into imagining this place—you must use all senses. You should hear the sounds, see the sights, feel the sensations, and taste the air, and so on.
There are different methods of using this technique. You can use the aid of a therapist, a guided imagery CD, or simply do it on your own.
Technique #3: Tai Chi
Tai Chi evolved from martial arts, but its current uses are for health or therapy/relaxation purposes. Tai Chi is a series of slow and flowed movements. This technique is best learned in a class or from an instructor—but once you learn the moves you can do it anywhere, anytime, and on your own. Mindfulness is a large part of this exercise—being aware of the sensations of your body and the movements, and focusing solely on the present and what is happening there.
Technique #4: Massage Therapy
Everyone knows that a massage can be relaxing, but there are certain types of massage meant for relaxation and the harmony of the body. Swedish and Shiatsu massages are good options for cultivating a relaxation response, while other massages are too deep or intense to be particularly relaxing in the longer term.
Self-massage therapy is also an option, as there are certain techniques that can be applied to the face, head, or shoulders, but it is usually best to engage the services of another person, as the touch of someone else is often more relaxing than one’s own.
Technique #5: Yoga
While there are many different types of yoga, your best bet for relaxation is yoga routines particularly designed for relaxation, or a class for beginners. Some kinds of yoga, such as heated yoga or fast yoga, are too intense to be beneficial as a relaxation technique.
Like tai chi, yoga is best learned in a class or from an instructor, but can be down alone once the moves are learned. Talk to a studio or the instructor about which yoga is best as a relaxation technique for your purpose and level of fitness.
Sleep disturbance has many possible causes. Acupressure being a therapeutic art, it works wonders on worry, anxiety, headaches, common ailments, mood problems, depression, menopause symptoms, all of which being potential causes of your insomnia. By working directly on the root of the problem, using a renown therapeutic modality, you improve your sleep. Whatever other technique you use (herbs, relaxation, etc), working on the proper Acupressure points as well will greatly enhance the impact of your efforts.