For optimal health, it's important to make stress management techniques a main part of your self-care routine. Like exercising regularly and following a balanced diet, practicing stress management techniques can boost your vitality and help you stave off chronic disease.
Why Are Stress Management Techniques Important?
When left unchecked, chronic stress can weaken your health and increase your risk for a number of serious health conditions (including depression and heart disease). While it's often impossible to eliminate stress altogether, you can protect against the damaging effects of stress by using stress management techniques.
By introducing stress management techniques into your health routine, you may be able to:
- lower your blood pressure
- slow your breathing rate
- stimulate circulation
- ease muscle tension
- reduce chronic pain
- boost your concentration
- tame your anger
Types of Stress Management Techniques
There are many different types of stress management techniques. In order to find the technique that best suits your needs, you may need to experiment with several practices and identify the approach that's most calming and enjoyable for you.
Here's a look at some stress management techniques shown to offer significant stress-reducing effects in scientific studies:
1) Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This stress management technique involves slowly tensing and then relaxing every muscle group in your body. Starting with your toes, tense your muscles for five seconds and then relax for 30 seconds. Move on to your legs, and gradually work your way all the way up to your face. For more intense relaxation, incorporate deep breathing into the exercise.
Guided imagery (also known as "visualization") is a technique that involves achieving deep relaxation by imagining yourself in a peaceful place. According to proponents, vividly capturing your imagined location (by conjuring up the sights, sounds, smells, and textures, for instance) can maximize the healing effects of the technique. While guided imagery can be practiced on your own, you can also use recordings or scripts to guide you through visualization exercises.
A mind-body practice that originated in India more than 4,000 years ago, yoga combines physical postures, deep breathing, and meditation. Research suggests that yoga may act as a stress management technique by dampening or limiting stress-related changes in the body. In order to find the yoga practice that's right for you, you may want to test out several different types of yoga styles.
4) Tai Chi
Like yoga, tai chi is a stress management technique that also serves as a form of exercise. A type of gentle martial art long practiced in China, tai chi combines slow, graceful movements with meditation and rhythmic breathing. Said to stimulate the body's flow of vital energy (or "chi"), tai chi was found to enhance psychological wellbeing by reducing stress (as well as lessening anxiety, improving mood, and increasing self-esteem) in a 2010 research review.
A stress management technique that involves focusing your attention and calming your mind, meditation is sometimes practiced for spiritual purposes. However, research suggests that meditation novices can experience significant stress reduction after just a brief instruction in simple meditation techniques. Meditation is also a key component of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, a healing approach that aims to address the unconscious thoughts, feelings, and behaviors thought to increase stress and undermine your health.
Before You Begin Using Stress Management Techniques
In order to make the most of stress management techniques, it's important to practice them on a regular basis. Keep in mind that many other calming activities (such as listening to soothing music, performing gentle exercise, and practicing self-massage) can also serve as stress management techniques. The key is finding a stress management technique that works best for you, rather than forcing yourself to take on a new activity that only adds more stress to your life.
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Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Christian L, Preston H, Houts CR, Malarkey WB, Emery CF, Glaser R. "Stress, inflammation, and yoga practice." Psychosom Med. 2010 72(2):113-21.
Lane JD, Seskevich JE, Pieper CF. "Brief meditation training can improve perceived stress and negative mood." Altern Ther Health Med. 2007 13(1):38-44.
MayoClinic.com. "Relaxation techniques: Essential for reducing stress". May 2009.
Wang C, Bannuru R, Ramel J, Kupelnick B, Scott T, Schmid CH. "Tai Chi on psychological well-being: systematic review and meta-analysis." BMC Complement Altern Med. 2010 21;10(1):23.