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Stress - how to get from 'OMG' to 'OM' in less than 20 minutes

Stress occurs when you perceive that demands placed on you - such as work, school or relationships - exceed your ability to cope. Some stress can be beneficial at times, producing a boost that provides the drive and energy to help people get through situations like exams or work deadlines. However, an extreme amount of stress can have health consequences, affecting the immune, cardiovascular, neuroendocrine and central nervous systems, and can take a severe emotional toll.

Untreated chronic stress can result in serious health conditions including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. Research also shows that stress can contribute to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depression and obesity.

But by finding positive, healthy ways to manage stress as it occurs, many of these negative health consequences can be reduced. Everyone is different, and so are the ways they choose to manage their stress. Some people prefer pursuing hobbies such as gardening, playing music and creating art, while others find relief in more solitary activities such as meditation, yoga and walking.

Here are 7 stress-relieving tips for dealing with stress and anxiety;

1. Take a break from the stressor.

It may seem difficult to get away from a big work project, a crying baby or a growing credit card bill. But when you give yourself permission to step away from it for a while, you let yourself have time to do something else - which can help give a new perspective or some time to practice techniques to help feel less overwhelmed. It’s important not to avoid your stress (those bills have to be paid sometime and the crying baby needs to be tended to), but even just 20-minutes, when the opportunity arises to take time out for yourself, is helpful.

2. Exercise

Most of us know that exercise is not only for our physical health but also for our mental health as well. Maintaining a regular (healthy, non-obsessive) exercise routine has been proven to reduce stress, improve mood, enhance self-esteem and increase energy levels. A 20-minute walk, run, swim or dance session allows the body to release chemicals called endorphins, that interact with receptors in the brain to trigger a positive feeling in the body.

3. Breathe Deeply

One of the most effective ways to activate the relaxation response is by decreasing the heart rate. Since we can't voluntarily alter our pulse, more tangible measures are needed. Luckily, a rapid heart rate can be instantly lowered with deep breathing techniques that reduce the sympathetic nervous system response (fight or flight/alert) into para sympathetic (calm). The most commonly utilized strategy is diaphragm or belly breathing by contracting the diaphragm, a horizontal muscle in the chest located just above the stomach cavity.

To do this: sit up straight, eyes closed, with a hand on your belly. Slowly inhale through your nose and as you breathe in expand your tummy as far as possible and then release. Repeat this process for a few minutes until you begin to feel your body relax. This deep breathing exercise counters the effects of stress by slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure.

4. Meditate

Meditation and mindfulness help the mind and body to relax and focus. A few minutes of practice per day can also help to ease anxiety. Research suggests that daily meditation may alter the brain’s neural pathways, making you more resilient to stress. Much like exercise, research has shown that even meditating briefly can reap immediate benefits.

It's simple to do it: sit up straight with both feet on the floor. Close your eyes. Focus your attention on reciting - out loud or silently - a positive mantra such as “I feel at peace” or “I love and accept myself, exactly as I am.” Place one hand on your belly to help sync the mantra with your breath. Let any distracting thoughts float by and if the mind wanders just bring attention back to the breath and recommence the mantra again.

5. Check your diet

What we eat and drink largely impacts our emotional state. Foods most associated with exacerbating anxiety are ones containing caffeine and alcohol. Even consumed in small amounts, studies have found that the stimulating effects of caffeine can cause anxiety, trigger panic attacks, and increase feelings of nervousness and irritability. Caffeine -- commonly found in coffee, colas, tea, and chocolate -- also causes physical symptoms such as trembling and shaking. Abruptly eliminating caffeine from the diet can lead to withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, restlessness and irritability so it's important to decrease caffeine consumption gradually. Similarly, although alcohol is often consumed to "take the edge off" it dehydrates the body and ultimately increases anxiety.

6. Reach Out

Your social network is one of your best tools for handling stress. Talk to others - preferably face to face, or at least on the phone. Share what's going on. Sometimes we just need to hear ourselves as we talk and work through what we are experiencing. A good friend will not take on your troubles but will reflect back what you say, so that you can hear how you are really feeling. Just talking something through can help obtain a fresh perspective while keeping your friendship and connection strong.

7. Smile and laugh.

While it may be the last thing imaginable at a time of stress, smiling and laughing are hugely beneficial. Our brains are interconnected with our emotions and facial expressions. When people are stressed, they often hold a lot of the stress and tension in their face and in particular around the jaw and neck area. When a stressful situation calls for either laughter or tears, try choosing laughter as it can relieve some of the physical tension stored in our bodies as well as lightening the ‘heaviness’ around the situation itself.

If any of this is of interest to you or if you would like to know how CranioSacral Therapy can assist you in dealing with the deeper effects of stress in your life, please feel free to call me on 087-9704084 or e-mail me at;

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