Happy, Healthy Destressing! This week is all about finding some inner peace, quiet, and calm. A stressor, the stimulus that causes stress, which can be real or imagined, can affect a person in a short term (acute) or over long periods (chronic). Unmanaged stress could result in an increased risk of both physical and mental problems, like illness, diabetes, obesity and heart disease, and depressive and anxiety disorders. This is why stress is called the “silent killer” and unfortunately people do not take it seriously. It can be a little more complicated than just learning not to “sweat the small stuff”, although that definitely will stop stress from building up in the first place. Here are our top 10 important tips about releasing your Stress: 1. Find your “happy place” and go there often. Some people set aside a little corner or “nook” in their home, or even just claim a comfortable chair as their go-to spot, where they can escape to and decompress. Sit in silence. Read a book. Do some coloring. (Seriously, adult coloring books are popular now for a reason!). Or crafting. Knitting, making jewelry, or cross-stitch are hobbies with repetitive motions, which can be very soothing. There’s gardening, baking, or tinkering around in the garage. Basically any hobby that brings you joy is worth doing as an antidote to doing other things that stress you out. 2. Find your “happy place” and visualize it. A short visualization is an easy way to get back to center. Even the National Institutes for Health recognizes the power of “guided imagery” to elicit a relaxation response. Give yourself permission to “daydream” anytime. (Set a timer so you can truly “let go” and not worry about it.) 3. Set-up a more formal meditation regimen and get some guidance. It can be pretty simple to do on your own if you close your eyes and focus on one thing, whether it’s your breathing, an object (a flower, or a painting), or even a picture in your mind. You can do this for as little as 10 minutes to experience benefits. The key is staying focused and not letting any distractions or thoughts enter your mind. A Cleveland Clinic study found that web-based stress management programs, like “guided meditation”, decreased stress levels and boosted scores emotional well-being in a group of 300 healthy adults. You can also use a mantra. Mantras are words that are chanted loudly during meditation. It may seem odd to be making loud noises during a meditation session, but it’s actually the sounds that become the object being focused on. (Primordial Sound Meditation (PSM) is a silent practice that uses a mantra. The mantra you receive is the vibrational sound the universe was creating at the time and place of your birth. It’s calculated following Vedic mathematic formulas and is very personal and specific to you.) Other types: Zen is also referred to as Zazen, which literally means “seated meditation.” It comes from Buddhism, which is more of a philosophy than a religion. You acquire insight through observing the breath and the mind, and through interaction with a teacher. Sometimes chanting is involved. Founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Transcendental Meditation (TM) uses a mantra or series of Sanskrit words to help the practitioner focus during meditation in lieu of just following breath. The mantra given to the student will vary according to a number of different factors, including the year in which the student was born and in some cases their gender. Meditation in the Kundalini Yoga tradition contains specific, practical tools that carefully and precisely support the mind, and guide the body through the use of breath, mantra, mudra (hand position), and focus. Yogi Bhajan, the founder, passed on hundreds of meditations tailored to specific applications. There are meditations that reduce stress, work on addictions, increase vitality, and clear chakras, to name a few. Learn about even more styles here: http://mindfulminutes.com/meditation-styles-techniques-explained/. 4. Add movement for a next level mindfulness practice. Energy, or Qi, is the focus of both Tai Chi and Qi Gong. In both styles, the practitioner uses visualization, breathing and body movement to guide the circulation of Qi as it moves through and around the body. However, Tai Chi has a more overt emphasis on the martial aspects of the training. Each Tai Chi motion has a specific combative application, and thus can theoretically be used for self-defense. Not all Qi Gong motions are like this as most exist solely for the purpose of meditation, health and healing. 5. Music can be therapeutic. While classical music has a particularly pacifying effect, any music that you love will flood your brain with happy neurochemicals like dopamine. Interestingly, music therapy has been shown to be helpful in decreasing anxiety associated with medical procedures: one recent study found that heart rate and blood pressure decreased significantly among individuals who listened to music during a colonoscopy (the control group did not experience any changes). The music intervention group also required less sedation during the procedure. And consider sound therapy. Scientific studies show that sound can produce changes in the autonomic, immune, endocrine and neuropeptide systems. Every atom, molecule, cell, gland, and organ of the human body absorbs and emits sound. The entire body, as well as our brain waves in a relaxed state, vibrates at a fundamental frequency of about 8 cycles per second, literally entraining and attuning us to the basic electromagnetic field of the earth itself. Mitchell Gaynor, M.D., director of Medical Oncology and Integrative Medicine at the Strang-Cornell Cancer Prevention Center, and author of the book, “Sounds of Healing”, uses crystal bowls and Tibetan bowls in his practice with cancer patients. He chronicles a thorough study of sound healing and a holistic approach to mind-body healing. (Crystals are particularly good at helping us adapt to changes in energy frequencies created through stressful situations. There seems to be a crystal for every form of stress including financial (Citrine), relationships (Rose Quartz), and burnout (Smokey Quartz). Having a large crystal in a room can also help reduce stress, by reducing negative energies and harmonizing imbalanced energy patterns.) 6. One last “M”-the art of Massage. Getting a massage is a great way to free yourself of tension and relax, and adding aromatherapy oils such as chamomile or lavender can enhance the experience. (Grab your BFF and head out for a spa day!) There are numerous approaches. The most common is the Swedish massage, which is a whole-body therapeutic massage designed to relax the muscles and joints. Other popular types include deep tissue, shiatsu, hot stone, reflexology, and Thai massage. http://altmedicine.about.com/od/massage/a/massage_types.htm 7. Do as the Yogis do. “Pranayama is the regulation of the prana, or life force. Breath is the external manifestation of the prana. By regulating the breath, we can gain mastery over the prana within and without. When we gain mastery over the prana, we have mastery over the inner nature, too, because it is the prana that creates all the movements in an individual—physical and mental. We try to control the inner nature, because it is the nature’s movement that causes a lot of disturbance in the system and makes it impossible for the Light within to shine in its true, original way.”-Swami Satchidananda. Breathing is just one contribution. Applying pressure to the space between your second and third knuckle (the joints at the base of your pointer and middle fingers) can help to create a sense of instant calm, a naam yoga hand trick. And many yoga poses are known stress relievers, as they open the shoulders, relieve neck tension, and do away with many of the physical symptoms of stress. “Eagle pose” is a prime example of how a brief asana can target back and neck tension. 8. Veg out, don’t stress (eat) out. Many of us crave indulgent carbohydrates and other sweet and starchy foods when we’re stressed, anxious, or tense. Eating or drinking something sweet stems the production of the stress hormone, glucocorticoid, and boosts serotonin levels in the brain. Enjoy these treats if they provide some instant satisfaction, but just watch your portion sizes. Keep them to a 100 calorie amount. Of course, picking a plant snack that will fill you up (like half an avocado) would be even better for you. 9. Add these to your herbal repetoire: licorice root, passionflower, kava kava, lemon balm, and St. John’s Wort. Or use a quality herbal supplement like Shaklee’s Stress Relief Complex, a formula that contains ashwagandha, a traditional herb used to help the body adapt to heightened stress. It also contains L-theanine, beta sitosterol, and L-tyrosine. (A note about vitamins and stress too-B vitamins are vital for optimal mental health and stress. Water soluble, they need to be replenished on a daily basis. Taking a B-complex vitamin, which contains most the major B vitamins, might be the best option to help reduce stress. A good B-complex vitamin can help digestive metabolic processes which might be affected negatively since stress slows digestive processes.) 10. Give full body progressive muscle relaxation a try. Start with your toes and work your way up: tighten your foot muscles as much as you can, then relax them. Make your way up, tightening and relaxing each muscle until you’ve finished with your face. This kind of calming technique is somewhat used in Hypnotherapy. You can add a visual component, like a golden ball of light moving through your body one muscle at a time, taking all of your stress as it exits out the top of your head. (Quick tip: chewing gum doesn’t just make your breath better-it can relieve anxiety, improve alertness, and reduce stress during episodes of multitasking. Or grab a malleable gel or clay stress ball. Squeezing the ball activates the muscles of your hand and wrist; releasing the grip allows the muscles to relax. The repeated pattern of grip and release helps to alleviate tension and stress. It’s easy to keep these small items in a bag with you at all times!) And if you really only have less than 30 seconds to take a “me time” break, you can always watch a cute animal video. Or any feel-good, viral video clip. It just makes you feel better and releases endorphins in your brain. (Or yell or scream into a pillow if frustration is what’s getting to you. There’s no shame in “releasing” this way too.) Next week will be Week 9 of our new Team RLEI Reset Program to Live Amazing and we’ll examine more types of BodyWork for the full mind-body-spirit connection. Meanwhile, find a way to “chillax” more today!