I have a hard time relaxing. Even when I sleep, I stay tensed up in my neck and shoulders. How do I know that? Because I wake up with killer tension headaches. :C
I don’t think I’m the only one who suffers from chronic tension. In fact, I’d wager that many of us walk around with so much everyday tension that we’ve honestly forgotten it’s there. This tension is not only painful (mentally and physically), it eventually eats at our health. I’ve seen my father suffer the effects of long-term stress, with chest pains, swollen legs and feet, breathlessness, and painful joints; I don’t want to end up in constant pain like he has.
Why Traditional Methods of Relieving Stress Don’t Always Work
I don’t know about y’all, but I find traditional methods of stress relief to be BO-RING. Meditation is great; meditation works for some people. For me, it’s 10-15 minutes of letting my brain run absolutely amok–it will not shut up, and it requires something else to focus on besides my guilt and worries. Meditation, for me, causes more tension than it relieves because I am alone with my thoughts…and that’s not a good thing.
Writing things down sorta-kinda works for me, except for the fact that handwriting takes soooo veryyyy lonnnggg when I’m used to typing almost as fast as I can think. In this case, my frustration with the medium (pen and paper) stop me from relaxing, because I hate the slow pace of my handwriting. (I definitely don’t think I’m alone in that, LOL.) I wish I could write faster, but as my hand cramps very badly from long years of not using my handwriting, I end up scripting words at a snail’s pace, often making stupid and obvious spelling mistakes because my brain is light-years ahead of my pen. (One more frustration!)
The 5-Minute Methods that Work for Me
- Focused, deep breathing.
Yes, I know, this sounds weird. Why would deep breathing work for me and not meditation?
I think it’s because deep breathing forces me to focus on a task (breathing in so deeply that my belly expands, and then letting it out through pursed lips). With something concrete and simple to focus on, my brain momentarily pushes away all the other junk that would normally be clouding my thoughts.
- Tensing and relaxing muscles.
I read this in an old-as-grass health book back in middle school, and I’ve used it to good effect since then. Basically, you lie in bed, and squinch all your muscles up as tightly as you can for at least 30 seconds. Then, starting with your feet and legs, relax all the muscles, moving up through your body until you’ve relaxed everything.
This always leaves me feeling pleasantly warm and relaxed, as if I’d had a brief massage…and it makes you realize just how much tension you’ve already been carrying around!
- Rural driving at dusk.
For me, driving on an unhurried evening with a beautiful vista surrounding me (and very few cars around) is very, very relaxing. You would think driving would tense me up, but in fact, moving through the landscape at 35-45 mph, watching the shadows slowly lengthen and the colors slowly change toward night, is quite lovely. Now, I do need a rural setting for this–having to deal with sudden brake lights ahead of me and annoying tailgaters behind me isn’t relaxing at all–but if I can find me a nice, empty road to drive on, it works.
- Eating pasta–any kind.
Fettuccine alfredo? Oh yeah, I’m there. 3-minute mac’n’cheese heated up in the microwave, with a little garlic powder added to taste? Sure, bring it on!
No matter the price point, pasta always relaxes me. Perhaps it’s the heaviness of the meal or the fact that it feels so good to eat something so non-diet…but it’s definitely “comfort food.” 😀
- Turning a fan on and wrapping up in a blanket.
Sounds counterintuitive, but for some reason, feeling a breeze on my face while being otherwise snuggled up is relaxing for me. It’s just cool enough that I can unwind, but I’m not tensed up and freezing my fat off.
- Smelling lavender and/or vanilla scents.
This has been scientifically studied and proven over the last century–these two fragrances are most calming and stress-relieving. I scoffed at this until I started cooking with vanilla extract one day and found myself in a much better mood, despite having to deal with some iffy burners and an almost-epic-fail or two on the stove. Since then, I have begun using vanilla and lavender around my home to subtly affect the air, and combined with a good movie, a warm blanket, and a full tummy, this sends me into relaxed sleep in no time.
How Do YOU Relax?
In the end, these ideas of mine are simply that–ideas, presented as options for you. If you find that these work for you like they have worked for me, then that’s wonderful. But if they don’t, you might just need a little more research into what might relax you most. It took me years to find these tricks…yours might be hiding and waiting to be discovered, too!