Coping With Stress Through Relaxation

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I hope that the holidays aren’t stressing you out. Whether they are or not, here’s something that can help.

In my blog entry last week ("Reducing Stress"), I wrote about reducing and avoiding sources of stress. That’s the best way to deal with stress—but sometimes you can’t eliminate the sources of stress from your life. So what can you do then? Here are some ideas:

Breathe. Focused, deep breathing is the best relaxer there is. Just stop and take a couple of deep breaths, paying attention to how the breath feels moving through your nose, throat, and chest. This is the basic idea behind meditation. Or you can do more formal breathing exercises if you have two minutes. Here are two of the simplest:

  • Abdominal breathing: Place your hands over your abdomen, just below the navel. Breathe into the abdomen so that your hands rise when you breathe in and lower on the out breath. Let the breath relax your lower back as well.
  • Pursed-lip breathing: Get comfortable in any position. Breathe in through the nose, then gently out through the mouth, with lips pursed together like you’re going to whistle. Don’t push the air out; let it come out slowly and smoothly.

For more breathing exercises, click here or look up “pranayama” in a Google search.

Turn down your mind. Try any of the following practices to quiet your mind.

Feel good. Here are a few more ideas that can help boost your general well-being.

  • Play with or stroke a pet, or just watch the fish in a tank or birds outside. The health benefits of having pets have been well-researched and include lower blood pressure and triglycerides. I’ll write more about the benefits of pets another time.
  • Hug someone.
  • Get your hands dirty: Work with potted plants, or, better yet, get out into your garden.

Slow down. Try some of these ideas to keep your life from getting too crazed.

  • Take off your watch.
  • Drive in the slow lane—or better yet, take the bus! Or walk. At the very least, let somebody else drive.
  • Put in ear plugs; turn down your phone ringer.
  • Keep a Sabbath day, one whole day where you do nothing except relax and delight in creation.
  • Have some fun: Play a game or spend some time with children.
  • Give the people you live with a 10 minute warning: “In 10 minutes, I’m going to be doing my relaxation. I will not want to be bothered for 20 minutes, unless it’s an emergency. Is there anything you need me to take care of now?”

What works for you?

What methods have you tried to help yourself relax? Have they worked for you? What else can you tell us about dealing with stress? Share your comment below.

If you want more ideas or more reasons to relax, I’ve got a whole chapter on the subject in my book The Art of Getting Well.

A longer version of this blog entry will appear on a new Web site I’m helping write called New Health Partnerships. It’s for patients, families, and health-care providers. We’re trying to teach all three groups better ways to work together for health. It’s partially up now—check it out at

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