Best Way to Relax and Unwind

The phone’s ringing, someone’s yelling -it’s pandemonium. If you need an antidote to today’s stressful living, read on.

What does the word ‘relaxation’ conjure up in your mind? Sipping ice-cold martini cocktails on a sun-drenched beach, meditating in the lotus position, burying your head in a good book, having an aromatherapy massage or gazing aimlessly at the clouds? The Hale Clinic’s Dr Robert D. Russell, a personal-development and stress-management counsellor, points out that relaxation isn’t just about lying on a beach or crystal-gazing: ‘Relaxation is a combination of three things,’ explains Dr Russell. ‘You need to balance work with a mixture of activity (which includes exercise and recreation), as well as rest and structured relaxation.’

Relax and Unwind Best Way to Relax and Unwind

If we are to lead healthier, more fulfilling lives, it is vital that we bring calm and tranquillity into our stress-filled times. Slowing down means that we function more effectively. Frantic, high-flying types – the ones who are only happy when they are doing five things at once and who denigrate relaxation as something kooky – should realise that being hyperactive is now considered deeply unfashionable. Serenity is a beauty imperative. But if switching off and relaxing seem an impossible task, even if you can only snatch a few moments in which to relax, you’ll find that it gives you control over your life and looks.

Stress triggers what is known as a ‘fight or flight’ response, increasing the production of hormones, adrenalin, Cortisol and non-adrenalin, which are responsible for sending your heart rate and blood pressure soaring. The body is equipped to deal with a certain amount of stress; however, continual stress, as a result of work overload, financial problems or other pressures, takes its toll on the body. Cells become filled with impurities, thus depriving the body of nutrients and resulting in spots, blotchy skin, eczema, dull hair and weak nails. Stress is also ageing: the cell-rebuilding process slows down, the body’s water balance is disturbed and the rate of free-radical production increases. From a health aspect, stress inhibits breathing, breaks down the immune system and, as it creates more acid in the saliva, can even cause tooth decay.

But according to Dr Russell not all stress is bad: ‘Too little stress leads to apathy and lack of motivation, so it’s a case of keeping the stress levels balanced! Nonetheless, he warns those whose stress levels are tilting towards the unhealthy to watch out for the danger signs, which include skin problems, tense muscles, moodiness, panic attacks, loss of libido, headaches, indigestion, lethargy, lack of concentration and insomnia. Dr Russell explains that even he cannot wave a magic wand: ‘Realise your own limitations and change your lifestyle accordingly!

If your usual way of dealing with stress is by smoking, plan a relaxation session at least twice a week: this could include taking up yoga, Pilates, t’ai chi, meditation or The Alexander Technique, which all help to relax the body, calm the mind and retrain you to breathe correctly. If all else fails, you could try a stress-management course: by dissecting and examining your own personal stress cycle you should come up with solutions. However, if you can practice Dr Russell’s self-relaxation technique once a day, or even once a week, you might just find that stress becomes a thing of the past.

How to relax

Dr Russell has devised a simple relaxation technique so easy that you can do it on the bus or train. When at home, find a quiet spot and play relaxing music if it helps. Enjoy your relaxed state for a minimum of five minutes, although in order to reap real benefits, twenty minutes is ideal. Practise it once a week and you’ll soon start to feel more human again; practise it daily and you will feel like a new person. Start by lying down or sitting comfortably, with your back held straight.

  • Close your eyes, take a deep breath and hold it for as long as possible. Exhale with a long, deep sigh and really try to feel that you are ridding yourself of stale air. Repeat.

Relax and Unwind 1 Best Way to Relax and Unwind

  • The second stage is to start breathing in a more relaxed way, from your diaphragm rather than taking shallow, rapid breaths from your chest. Inhale a long breath through your nose for approximately three to five seconds. Exhale by releasing your diaphragm slowly, for five to eight seconds, rather than forcing the air out.
  • Breathe normally, allowing your mind and body to wind down into a comfortable state.
  • Keeping your eyes closed, mentally scan your body for tension (perhaps your neck is stiff or your shoulders are tense). Now, each time you take a breath, as you exhale, use this breath to relax the parts of your body that need it.
  • Finally, rejuvenate your mind by visualising the promise of a new future when you inhale, while when you exhale, imagine that you are ridding your body of all the stress and debris of life.


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