Mastering the Art of Relaxation: Techniques to Calm Your Mind & Manage Stress
When did life get so busy that it feels like a luxury to allocate time for yourself and your mental wellbeing? How can it be that feeling ‘overwhelmed and stressed out’ are emotions that are all too normal in our society? These are two questions that I often think about. I’m pleased to say that it doesn’t have to be this way. There are ways to de-stress and bring mindfulness relaxation into your day. In this article I’m sharing my favourite relaxation techniques that can help you (as they do me) to manage everyday pressure, reduce your stress levels and reclaim your peace of mind.
What is stress?
Stress is defined as your body’s reaction to pressure from a certain situation or event. This reaction can be physical, mental, or emotional.
Whilst stress can feel overwhelming, not all stress is bad. In fact, you need to have some stress in your life to help you carry out daily tasks. Acute stress is that temporary feeling you get when you’re stuck in traffic and running late. Or slight panic at work when you have a deadline looming.
The problems occur when stress is constant and persistent for an extended period. Our culture has shifted somewhat in the last forty years, chronic stress is a real problem in our fast-paced modern society. How we live is a contributing factor.
Bringing more relaxation into your life.
The stress response is designed to fight off danger. To run away from the tiger that is chasing you. To counteract the stress response, you need to invoke the relaxation response ‘rest and digest.’ Studies by leading Cardiologist Dr Herbert Benson in the 1970’s identified that rest response “the quietening of the mind” can be self-induced in many ways when the need arises. Transcendental and mindfulness meditation were two practices that were shown to help with managing high blood pressure and other symptoms of stress.
Signs I was living with Chronic Stress
The signs of chronic stress show up in many ways. It’s only as I look back on that period in my life that I realise all the warning signs were there.
I’d recently moved to Australia from the UK and was adjusting to a very different work culture. I had started to experience regular migraines and problems sleeping. Many nights I was either struggling to get to sleep or I would wake during the night stressing about the day ahead. I was experiencing anxiety at work. Over time my weight increased, and I was regularly suffering from digestive problems like IBS. Emotionally I was moody, and I began to feel depressed.
Thankfully I had found an outlet to manage my wellbeing, I was attending yoga classes a couple of times per week, and I was noticing how good this made me feel.
Things came to a head for me one day when I visited the doctor for an unrelated problem. He told me I was 10kg overweight, my blood pressure was high due to work stress, and that I should be on tablets. This was the moment when everything changed for me.
My wellbeing became my priority. I made some huge changes in my life, including leaving my career.
The techniques I’m about to share with you continue to help me manage stress and bring calmness to my mind.
You can read more about my personal journey using this link.
Take time for yourself.
Believe me, this is not a luxury. Finding ways to reconnect with yourself is an important part of mastering the art of relaxation. But seldom do we priorities our own needs. We’re very good at scheduling appointments into our diary for other commitments but we don’t do this for our own mental wellbeing.
I highly recommend taking time to schedule something into your day that calms and centres you. Before I had my own yoga and meditation practice, I regularly attended yoga classes. I can’t tell you how valuable this time was for me, to leave all the stresses of my day at the door. For that time, everything that was going on in my world outside didn’t exist.
My practice remains my most precious, sacred time.
This brings me to the most valuable technique I’ve learnt, developing self-awareness, through regularly practising mindfulness meditation, movement and breathwork. Techniques that are scientifically proven to help lower stress levels.
You become aware from moment to moment of your thoughts, you’re re-occurring thought patterns and your emotions. You develop the ability to be more present, for others and in your day-to-day life.
The real benefit I’ve experienced is how my worries, anxieties and thoughts affect me. There is awareness but no judgement. I’m able to respond and cope in difficult situations in a more calm and controlled manner. Through regular practice of meditation, I’ve grown to know myself and value the time to be with myself in this way.
If you would like to try Mindfulness meditation, you can access a FREE 10 minute audio practice clicking this link.
Connecting with your breath is one of the most instant and easily accessible relaxation techniques to reduce stress that you can learn. When you are stressed, your breath is shallow, faster, and short. There is tension in your abdomen, chest, and throat. Mindful breathing involves focusing your attention onto your natural breath as it enters and leaves your body, in doing so you activate the relaxation response. Your breath slows down, it becomes longer, and you restore a sense of calm.
You can access a FREE 10 minute mindfulness audio training for managing overwhelm and stress by clicking this link.
Practice Yoga Nidra
In our years of teaching, the one practice that students love and look forward to the most is Yoga Nidra. It is a beautiful practice that you can depend on when you’ve had a busy, stressful day and you need to fully relax. It is an incredibly powerful technique to reduce stress.
What makes Sayananda Yoga Nidra so special is it induces deep relaxation for the mind and body, with its ultimate goal of increasing self-awareness.
When you practice Yoga Nidra regularly you learn how to relax and harmonise your body and mind. This creates balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. Evoking physical, mental, and emotional relaxation. In fact, it is the best practice I know to obtain a deep level of relaxation.
Access your very own 20 minute Yoga Nidra audio practice by clicking on this link.
Get into nature.
Spending time in natural environments has been shown to have a positive effect on stress levels and mental health. It can help reduce stress, lower anxiety, and depression, improve your concentration, and even boost your physical wellbeing.
In my corporate days, I found great value in eating lunch outside in the park. It wasn’t unusual for me to also listen to a Yoga Nidra practice during my lunch break whilst soaking up some essential vitamin D!
Now that I work from home, at the end of a busy day I regularly take 20 minutes for a short stroll along the country paths close to home. You’ll often hear me refer to the value my mid-week walk at the beach has for my mental wellbeing. This is something that is firmly scheduled into my diary, time for me to be in and immerse myself in the natural environment.
Taking time away from your schedule to enjoy the simple pleasures in life can do wonders for your mental health. In this article I’ve shared with you the tools I that have helped me to calm my mind and manage my stress levels. These can all help you feel more relaxed and less overwhelmed. But the important thing is to unplug and take a break to savour any activities that bring joy to you.
If you enjoyed reading this article, you may also like to read…
How to deal with difficult emotions as they arise.
Feeling overwhelmed? Your breath can be your reset.