We cannot avoid stress-producing or anxiety-provoking circumstances—they are a natural consequence of life on Planet Earth. But there are effective ways to lessen their impact on our minds and bodies. In addition to walking, running, and other activities, we can begin to practice ways to release the tension that builds up in us when we experience such situations. Here are a few strategies that I use and find them to be pretty effective.
- Take a deep breath. I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I’m working at warp speed or something is going on that threatens to stress me, I find that my breathing becomes shallow. Other times it seems that I literally forget to breathe. Taking a deep breath can do wonders in diffusing the tension that you may be feeling. Deep breathing relaxes you because it lowers your heart rate and circulates extra oxygen to various parts of the body. Here’s the scoop on how to get the most out of it. I’m not sure where I first learned this, but I have practiced it for years. Pretend that your stomach is a balloon. Inhale rather loudly and slowly through your nostrils (mouth closed) counting to ten. Fill your diaphragm area as if it were a balloon. Listen only to your breathing; it should sound like the ocean. Exhale slowly through your mouth, making a hissing sound with your teeth together. Listen only to your breathing. Take the entire ten seconds to exhale. Repeat five to ten times throughout the day depending on the amount of stress that you are feeling. Obviously, this exercise has to be done in private; however, if you feel that you need to do it immediately, just skip the sound effects and breathe quietly but deeply. This is also a good exercise to do when you get into bed at night. When done with the sound effects, it can be very effective in shutting down your over-active mind.
- Squeeze an anti-stress ball or gadget. These come in several shapes. I have one that is shaped like a cellular phone, another like a mini-calculator and one like a tennis ball. Simply squeezing it as tightly as you’d like relieves tension. These are usually available at an office supply store.
- Whistle. I attended a celebration recently and as part of the festivities, all the guests received a paper funnel horn to blow at certain intervals during the program. I left the horn in my car and forgot about it. Shortly thereafter, I was driving down the street and became so exasperated with insensitive, bad drivers that I just pulled the paper horn from the side pocket of the door and blew it with all my might. What a relief! Of course, the windows were up and no one heard it except me. Any whistle will do the trick, so you might want to pick up one.
- Sing. When Paul and Silas were jailed for preaching the gospel, they chose to sing. “Around midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening” (Acts 16:25). I have found that a nice worship song that ushers me into the presence of God and floods my soul with peace.
- Self-Massage. Learn to massage your tense areas yourself. If you find it a little difficult to reach your shoulders and neck effectively, put a small baseball in a long sock and lean against it on a wall. You can control the intensity of the pressure by how hard you press against the wall. This also feels great on the lower back.
These are just a few of the strategies that you can employ in lieu of drumming your fingers, complaining, and engaging other annoying and unproductive habits.
What are some other ways you’ve found to be effective in releasing tension throughout your day? I would love to hear about them in the comments section below.