Stress is on the rise in the U.S. In fact, 24 percent of U.S. adults surveyed for a 2015 American Psychological Association study noted that they were highly stressed. This is a marked increase from 18 percent in 2014.
High stress levels can damage a person’s health, and if left unchecked, stress can directly contribute to a number of serious maladies, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Combating stress on a daily basis is critical, and thankfully, there are a number of techniques that can enable someone to reduce their personal stress levels.
From breathing exercises to martial arts, here are a few alternative – and proven effective – methods for alleviating stress, recommended by four professors at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine.
Positive Affirmations and Visualization
Leena Guptha, DO, MBA, leads us through practical steps of using a positive affirmation. Pay attention to the language, breathing and bodily movement overall.
Using positive affirmations repeatedly can have a calming effect when we are stressed or anxious. Affirmations can help combat anxiety provoking thoughts by turning our attention to thoughts of calmness, peace, serenity and confidence. Often a vicious cycle of stress, anxiety, fear and negative self-talk can quickly develop, we can lose sleep, feel powerless, out of control and fatigued.
Our own “negative self-talk” can increase our anxiety. To empower ourselves and take control, we need to turn the negative self-talk into a positive one.
Here are some self-help tips to combat the daily stress and anxiety.
1. Create Your Own Affirmations
In these exercises, follow the construct of I.
Your goal and a reward and you are already halfway there.
– I, Jane, meditate ten minutes a day and I feel strong
– I, Sally, focus on my breath and I allow myself to feel calmed and relaxed
– I, John, have confidence in myself and I feel in control
– I, David, replace all negative self-talk with only positive self-talk, I feel calm, I feel relaxed, I feel in control.
2. Deep abdominal breathing: Breathing in deeply and slowly through your nose, taking the air right down to your abdomen, saying the word “calm” to yourself as you breathe in and breath out slowly and gently can help increase that relaxation.
3. Progressive relaxation: Lie down in a comfortable position relaxing all the muscles, as you visualize the stress and tension leaving your body with each breath, and think the word “relax.” Start with a minute a day and gradually build up to 20 minutes, relaxing music can help deepen this experience.
“In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), pathological changes resulting in illness are due to Qi imbalances in the collective function of the internal organs, ” says Deborah Reuss, MA, CMT, and Master of Asian Bodyworks. These imbalances may manifest as psychological, physical ailment or emotional.
According to TCM, the heart acts as an “Emperor”. The heart is responsible for coordinating the functions of all the internal organs and has a profound influence over the subconscious and conscious mind. The resulting emotional and psychological changes can include overwhelming anger, sorrow and confusion and fear. The physical conditions can lead to heart problems, skin disorders, immune problems and migraine headaches.
Asian bodywork is an excellent addition to the overall treatment plan for stress. Traditional Chinese Medicine assesses and evaluates the body’s flow of Qi. Treatment plans are to affect and balance the flow of Qi in the body, emotions, mind and the restoration of health. Advantages of Asian bodywork are no drugs, individualized therapy, no negative side effects and safe adjunct therapy. Asian bodywork include, but not limited to, Shiatsu, Tui Na and Thai.
Taijiquan is a Chinese health exercise and martial art consisting of a series of slow, gentle moving postures. The postures are based upon martial movements but are usually practiced as a moving meditation that helps the practitioner relax, develop better balance and improve their emotional balance.
William Helm, BS, HHP, and a Taiji master practices this relaxation technique himself. Taiji is especially useful in helping relieve the symptoms of stress and anxiety because of the emphasis upon deep slow relaxed breathing and relaxation.
This offsets the common symptoms of muscle tension, constricted breathing, faster heart rates and high blood pressure that are associated with stress and anxiety. It has been shown through scientific studies to facilitate the rate of recovery for those affected by stress and anxiety.
A Qigong Warm-up Exercise
Brendan Mattson, DACM, LAc, has offered us a practical way to implement this traditional form of relaxation from the traditional Chinese culture.
Traditional Chinese medicine has a complex approach to understanding stress and anxiety based on individualized “pattern diagnosis” and treatment. However, most people can benefit from acupuncture, massage, and meditative practices focused on rooting, grounding, or sinking the Qi into the lower body. This simple exercise helps to calm the mind and relieve muscle tension in the neck and shoulders, where many people “hold their stress.”
To take advantage of this simple, yet with powerful expression exercise, please get up and follow easy-to-understand steps.
Here is a step-by-step guide on HOW-TO perform this tension relieving exercise.
First, read the instructions. Then follow up with your actions.
1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, and shoulders relaxed.
2. Shift the weight slowly side to side. Allow the knees to bend and the upper body to slightly tilt to the side and sink towards the foot you shift to.
3. Allow the arms to hang, feeling the gentle pull of gravity on your arm and shoulder.
4. Imagine that with every tilt and shift, the arm is relaxing so much that it stretches and sinks towards the floor.
5. Feel the tension melting down your shoulders and arms, sinking towards the ground.
6. After 1-3 minutes, gradually decrease the depth of the weight shift, tilt of the torso, and stretch of the arm.
7. End back in the center, breathing deeply to the lower abdomen.
8. Return to your daily activities feeling grounded, revitalized, and relaxed!
When we find something that works for us in a powerful way to relieve our stress and anxiety, we equip ourselves with a potent mechanism to live a happier and more fulfilling life. Life that is filled with materializing our dreams rather than focusing and reliving the failures. Yet we need to take a personal responsibility to educate ourselves what’s out there that can support our lifestyle and combat stress at its root.