Natural Tools for Relaxation and Stress Relief
Help Yourself De-stress Naturally
These days, almost everyone suffers from too many demands on their limited resources. As a result, they feel increasingly stressed and overwhelmed. Taking a few minutes each day to relax is crucial to maintain balance in your life and avoid future health problems.
I have suffered from anxiety for years—and during that time I've tried many different self-help techniques for relaxation. Over time, I've identified different products and practices that help me keep my stress level under control. They include herbal tea, home massage aids, a yoga DVD, art therapy materials, and relaxation music. Using one or more of these items on a regular basis should help you to feel calmer and less pressured.
Don't wait until you're completely overwhelmed to start caring for your mental health. I can tell you from experience that the farther you let yourself decline, the harder it will be to recover and restore balance. If you're having problems with stress, take steps to take care of yourself now.
Do you suffer from stress?
Do you find yourself constantly overwhelmed? Do you suffer occasionally? Or are you one of those rare people who doesn't feel stress at all?
Home Massage Tools Relieve Muscle Tension
The massage process is perfect for relieving muscle tension that builds up in response to stress. (You may not think it's important to address this issue, but tension in the body can feed additional anxiety. The fact that your muscles are tense signals to your brain that something is wrong, which can trigger a vicious cycle.) Massage is very relaxing, but unfortunately, most of us can't afford to have a professional massage very often. Luckily, there are plenty of simple exercises you can do right at home to help you unwind.
I've owned the book 5 Minute Massage for at least ten years and I'd never give up my copy. This book contains massage techniques you can perform on yourself, plus a smaller selection of exercises you can use to massage someone else. As the book's name implies, each set of exercises is short and can be done in just a few minutes. The entire body is addressed in this book, with exercises for the head, feet, and almost everything in between. Photos are included for each exercise to help guide you through the process.
I use these exercises regularly to combat muscle tension. When I'm working on the computer, I often hunch forward a bit, tensing my neck and shoulder muscles. The book's techniques to relax the muscles in the head, neck and shoulders help me the most. I find the facial exercises extremely useful since I clench my teeth at night, which strains my jaw muscles and can give me headaches if I let it go too long without a little self-care. These targeted exercises can be done in just a few minutes -- or you can combine them for a longer, more extensive routine.
There's also a chart in the back of the book that contains a list of ailments and associated pressure points that will stimulate your body's natural healing mechanisms. I consult this chart whenever I'm ill, and I do find that it helps.
My only complaint about this book is that I wish it was spiral-bound! For exercises that I don't do frequently, I like to keep the book open so I can consult it as I work, but the binding makes that difficult; I have to use some sort of paperweight to keep the book open to the right page.
Unfortunately, this book is now out of print, so there are only used copies available. But I've had good luck purchasing used books through Amazon, so don't let the fact that there aren't any new copies stop you from getting it. If you see one from a seller who has good reviews, I suggest you snap it up before they disappear entirely.
If you want a simpler massage aid, try this wooden foot massager. Human feet are covered with sensitive spots that are believed to naturally stimulate the body's systems and organs. Wooden foot massagers are intended to duplicate the benefit you'd receive from a massage session with a reflexologist. Using this tool a few minutes each day should help relieve tension and improve your general health.
When I first tried this massager, I was surprised to discover just how tender my feet were! Most of my shoes are well cushioned for comfort -- having the unfortunate side effect of preventing natural foot massage when I walk. This little gadget helps relieve tension in my feet, and I can use it while watching TV or playing on the computer. Rolling your feet over the massager also provides your lower legs with a minor workout, so you can consider it part of your exercise routine.
Candlelight Yoga: Relaxing Exercises for Beginners
Yoga has proven to be a great way to relax while also getting a bit of exercise. Unfortunately, not everyone is fit and limber, and many people might be embarrassed to try a class when they don't know the techniques and have difficulty executing the movements. The Candlelight Yoga DVD solves these issues: you can practice in the privacy of your home, and the instructor offers modifications for each pose to help out beginners and make the practice accessible to those of us who aren't as flexible as we used to be.
I really like the instructor, Sara Ivanhoe. She's very warm and encouraging, and she reminds you not to push yourself beyond your comfort level. It also helps that the video shows several people of different skill levels performing the exercises; it's less intimidating when you can see that not everyone in the class is as advanced as the instructor.
Even if you can't do all the exercises yourself, I still think the video is worthwhile. I find it very relaxing just to watch, and I'll rest during the moves that are still a bit too advanced for me.
I tried several DVDs in the past and was discouraged to find them too difficult for my fitness level. This one has many poses that I can actually do, and I look forward to trying the more advanced and non-modified poses as my flexibility improves.
You may want a yoga mat to use for your practice, although it's not necessary if you practice on a non-slip surface, like carpet. No special props (such as bricks or straps) are required for these exercises.
This is a Region 1 DVD (for the U.S. and Canada). It includes a short morning routine plus a longer program.
Here's a brief video that shows different snippets of the yoga practice. Hopefully these glimpses will give you an idea of the fitness level for the video and also demonstrate what a wonderful instructor Sara Ivanhoe is for beginner students.
Mandala Coloring: Art Therapy as Meditation
One of my friends told me about mandala drawing many years ago. She did her drawings from scratch as a form of meditation. I was interested in the practice but I didn't think I was creative enough to make my own mandalas. Recently, I was delighted to learn that there are resources to help non-artists enjoy this process, including books with mandala outlines that you can color. I find this practice is very relaxing. It's easy to get involved in the process and forget the things that are troubling you.
I found that mandala coloring brought back memories of childhood art classes, which led to many other childhood memories resurfacing. If your childhood was a time you'd rather leave unexplored, you might want to avoid this form of art therapy.
You'll need some coloring tools to use your mandala book: markers, pencils, or even crayons will work. You may want to experiment with different products until you discover what type you prefer. Keep in mind that some designs are fairly intricate and are best colored with a fine point tool; while I tried Crayola crayons initially, they aren't very precise. (I also felt like I had to press too hard, so I couldn't use them for very long before my hand would start to cramp. The fact that they're so short might also have contributed to the problem.)
I'm currently using Prang colored pencils and I'm very happy with them. You get a very nice assortment of hues and shades for the price and they provide good coverage. I was worried that the line patterns would bother me, but I don't even notice it on small sections, and for larger areas I just go over it a second time and the lines blend away. You also don't have to worry about color rubbing off onto facing pages or bleeding through onto the reverse page (or even onto the page underneath).
Music Offers Natural Stress Relief
Listening to relaxing music is the easiest thing you can do to reduce your stress level. While you'll get the most benefit from active listening -- closing your eyes and focusing completely on the music -- even passive listening is helpful. I regularly play CDs of healing or meditation music in the background while I work and it definitely helps keep me from getting overwhelmed and tense. (It completely saved me when I was buying my first home, and that was easily the most difficult and challenging experience of my life.)
Unfortunately, most music isn't relaxing; it has a stimulating effect on the body because of the high number of beats per minute. The body tries to sync to the rhythm, resulting in a higher pulse rate and more agitated thoughts. Healing music has been designed specifically for relaxation, to slow down the body and calm the mind. Alpha and theta waves are patterns in the brain associated with relaxed or meditative states, and many healing compositions are recorded at specific frequencies that will encourage the brain into those patterns. (There are also recordings that include delta waves to promote restful sleep.)
This article discusses music for relaxation in more detail, including artist and album reviews: Healing music, an antidote to anxiety and stress.
Relaxation Is an Ongoing Process
Thanks for reading this article! I hope one or more of the tips I've offered here will help you.
Remember, relaxation and stress relief aren't achieved with one-time-only solutions. You need to take care of yourself and spend a few minutes every day in order to maintain calm and feel your best. The results are well worth it!
© 2014 C. A. Chancellor