Best Way to Calm

Under stress our muscles contract, adrenaline is released into the bloodstream, our hearts begin to beat taster and our blood pressure increases; we breathe more quickly, our metabolism speeds up, and we sweat to keep cool. This “fight or flight” response is entirely appropriate if we are in danger, if we are about to compete or if we need to spring into action. However, our bodies react in this way, in varying degrees, to all stressful situations. If the day is a series of stressful events, providing no opportunity to release the built-up tension and energy, the body does not have time to return to a “normal” state.

When we are in a relaxed state, the rate of our heartbeat and blood pressure is lower, we breathe more slowly, our muscles are less tense and our metabolism slows down.

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Our bodies use less oxygen and expel less carbon dioxide; our hormones return to a balanced state and blood lactate levels arc reduced. Our internal organs work more effectively and, although blood pressure reduces, circulation improves with more blood reaching the extremities of the body. Our muscles become soft and loose, and we become more aware of our bodies and feelings and less aware of our surroundings. Both our minds and bodies are rested in the process of relaxing deeply.

It is important to be aware of how the different ways in which we choose to relax affect us. Not all recreational activities will leave us in a deeply relaxed state. For instance, we may enjoy watching television, seeing a film or reading a book. These activities can expand our way of seeing the world, challenging or reinforcing our beliefs; they also provide entertainment and information. They do not, however, encourage deep relaxation as television, films and books stimulate the mind —our bodies may even react to events in the stories as if we were physically involved.  Having a drink or a cup of coffee with friends provides an opportunity for self-expression, social interaction, and a sharing of common interests. This is an activity we may greatly enjoy, yet it is not a deeply relaxing experience. Meetings with friends often take place in noisy, smoky environments where we are likely to consume caffeine or alcohol; all of these factors place stress on our bodies.

The key is to find a balance between work, leisure pursuits and relaxation. Spending even a small amount of time each day in a deeply relaxed state will benefit your health and well-being. The effects of living primarily in a relaxed state or primarily in a stressed state are very pronounced. When we arc relaxed, we are more likely to think clearly and be aware of what is happening around us; we are also likely to be more conscious of how we are responding to those events. High levels of energy enable us to experience unexpected events as opportunities and challenges full of possibilities. At work, we can expect to utilize time more effectively; the day will also seem to flow at a more even pace. The ability to focus makes us more efficient. When we are relaxed, we experience greater enjoyment in everything we do. Sleep is more regular, deep and peaceful, and we usually awake feeling refreshed and vital. Finding regular time for relaxation leads to an overall improvement in our health. And if we do become ill, we are more likely to recover quickly, as relaxation encourages the body to regain its normal self-regulation.

When we are stressed, we feel overwhelmed by the pressures of life. The list of problems appears endless. We never seem to enjoy ourselves because we are always thinking of work to be done, of the money we don’t have, or the list of things that should have been done, hailing asleep may be difficult because we are unable to switch off. We may wake frequently during the night or have disturbing dreams. This stress behavior will cause our health to deteriorate; we may become more susceptible to colds, flu, and headaches.

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A stressed state of being and a relaxed state of being are both self-perpetuating. To a certain extent, both are based on habit. Being stressed leads to repetitive behavior that creates stress. For example: We come home from a long day at work and the temptation is to kick off our shoes, slump into a chair and watch TV. As a repeated pattern, this behavior increases the stress in our lives. By contrast, the benefit we can feel from regularly practicing some short, simple relaxation techniques, and being aware of our diet and environment, is palpable. These positive effects become in themselves the motivation to increase the time we spend in deep relaxation. Thus our stress levels are reduced even further, and we soon find ourselves moving from a stress cycle to a relaxation cycle.

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