How our mind and body react to stress and how physical relaxation helps deal with it
Anxiety can arise in multiple dimensions at once. We may start experiencing negative emotions, bad thoughts, unpleasant bodily sensations and behavioral responses that come along with them like wild obedient soldiers.
For example, you're waiting for an interview and feeling quite stressed. At the emotional level, you're scared and anxious. At the mental level, you think you're not good enough for the job.
Physically, your jaw clenches and your hands tremble. In relation to behavior, the stress might make you pace back and forth or even bite your fingernails. Essentially, anxiety manifests itself in a whole range of interlinked ways.
So how do we stop this?
Before calming your thoughts and getting your behavior under control, specialists recommend acting on the physical manifestations of your stress level first and consciously reducing bodily tension. There are three recommended muscle relaxation techniques for stress management. It's best to learn them in sequence — move on to the next one after you've mastered the one before.
1. Jacobson's Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Created by Edmund Jacobson, an American doctor, physiologist and psychiatrist. The progressive muscle relaxation method involves sequential tension and relaxation of the main muscle groups — the arms, head, torso and legs. According to this method, you tense each muscle group for 7 seconds and relax for 20 seconds. This should be done 20–30 minutes everyday.
To get into progressive muscle relaxation, you tense and relax each muscle group one by one.
Start with the arms. Clench your fists with your thumbs on top. Keep them clenched for seven seconds, relax your muscles for 20 seconds.
Then your arms. Bend your arms at the elbow and tense your biceps. Keep them tense for 7 seconds, then release for 20 seconds.
Now the muscles in your head. Close your eyes and lift your brows, feel the tension in your forehead. Concentrate on this for seven seconds, then relax your eyebrows for 20 seconds
Knit your brows tightly, frowning and lifting your nose as you do this. Focus on the tension around your eyes, nose and cheeks. Then relax.
Lower your head and rest your chin on your chest. Feel the resulting tension in your neck. Focus on this for seven seconds. Then relax for 20 seconds.
Now move on to the torso. Lift your shoulders as high as you can — as if you're trying to touch your ears with them. Keep your shoulders in that position for seven seconds, then lower them and relax them for 20 seconds.
Now stretch your arms out parallel in front of you. Without bending them, cross them as far as you can. Feel the tension in your upper back. Hold this position for seven seconds.
Move on to the stomach. Take a deep breath in. Before you breathe out, tense all the muscles in your stomach. Hold this position, then breathe out and release the tension.
Next the legs. Tense your thighs and buttocks. Increase the tension by straightening your legs and pushing your heels hard into the floor. Hold this position for seven seconds, then relax for 20.
If you're sitting on a chair, raise your legs out in front of you a little lower than hip level. If you're lying down, raise them to a 45-degree angle. Now, without changing the position of your legs, point your toes down toward the floor. Feel the tension in your legs from your toes to your hips.
Clench your toes. Hold this position for seven seconds, then relax for 20.
Repeat this process at least 1 more time.
2. Quick Muscle Relaxation
You can do this anywhere. Let's get started!
Clench your fist, bicep and tricep at the same time. Keep them tense for seven seconds, then relax for 20.
Lower your head and move it round in a circle, first clockwise, then anti-clockwise. At the same time, tense your face as if you want each part to stretch to the end of your nose.
Now bring your shoulders back and clench your jaw and throat. Hold this position for seven seconds, then relax.
Gently arch your back forward and breathe in deeply at the same time. Hold this position, then relax.
Now take another deep breath in, but this time push out your stomach.
Now point your toes upward while tensing your calves and shins. Hold the position, then relax.
Next clench your toes and at the same time tense the muscles in your lower legs, thighs, and buttocks. Keep them tense.
3. Signal Relaxation
Starting off, make sure you are comfortable.
To start off, do quick muscle relaxation. Concentrate on how your stomach rises and falls each time you breathe in and out.
Now, each time you inhale, say in your head "breathe in," and when you exhale, say to yourself "relaxation."
Continue the exercise until you feel relaxed and calm enough.
Lowering your stress and anxiety level might seem hard at first. But if you can master these stress management procedures, as diligently as possible, one after the other, you will be surprised at the end result. Good luck!
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If you are in a life-threatening situation, please call 911 or get immediate help through one of these resources.