Relax: Your Brain Deserves It

We all fantasize about lounging away on a tropical beach, swinging peacefully in a hammock, sipping a piña colada and not having a care in the world. Unfortunately, this fantasy doesn’t become a reality for most of us, and we must find other ways to relax.

Stress Management is essential to maintaining mental and physical health. Reducing stress provides many benefits such as, decreasing anxiety, lowering blood pressure, reducing muscle pain and tension, improving concentration, reducing anger and frustration, and lessening the risks of harmful effects on the body.

So how do we go about relaxing when we’re sitting in an office instead of on a beach? There are several techniques that are simple, quick, and you can do from almost anywhere. These methods might not include a delicious piña colada, but studies have shown that stress management has positive effects on the body and brain. Three forms of stress management include Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), Visualization, and Mindfulness Meditation.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

PMR involves tensing and relaxing each muscle group in your body. In order to perform PMR, find a quiet space to lie down and close your eyes. Starting at your toes, tense your muscles as tightly as you can and hold for 5 seconds. Release the muscles as you exhale and relax for 30 seconds. Concentrate on feeling the difference between the tight muscles and the tense ones. Continue to do this with your calves, knees, thighs, hips, abdomen, chest, shoulders, arms, hands, neck, fingers, and lastly the face. This helps you become more aware of physical sensations and to relax your muscles.

Visualization

With visualization, you’re forming mental images to take you away to a peaceful place. Incorporate all your senses, focusing on smells, sights, sounds, taste, and touch. For instance, you could sit, close your eyes, and imagine the beach. Think about the sounds of the crashing waves hitting the shore, smell the crisp salt water ocean, feel the silky sand between your toes, and you guessed it, taste that ice cold piña colada. Visualization produces a state of calm relaxation and relief of stress.

Mindfulness Meditation

Meditation is the process of focusing your attention on the things that are happening right now in the present moment. During meditation, your thinking mind should become quiet, you stop focusing on the stressors of your day, and you shut off that voice inside your head. Concentrate on what you’re feeling, where you’re feeling it, and nothing else. By performing mindfulness meditation, you are creating an altered state of consciousness. A study done by UCLA showed that quieting the mind and focusing on the present increases brain connectivity. Volunteers who finished 8 weeks of mindfulness training showed stronger connections in several regions of their brains.

Mindfulness Meditation is now being included into school curriculums as well. Between math and recess, teachers are taking time out of their day to train their students how to engage in mindfulness. Students from Toluca Lake elementary school in Los Angeles participate in this meditation once a week for 10-12 weeks in order to help them cope with anxiety, social conflict, and attention disorders. Teachers noticed a difference right away, stating that there was less conflict on the playground, less test anxiety, and higher test scores.

Whether you are suffering from the daily stressors of everyday life or dealing with a serious illness, stress is something that haunts all of us. Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Visualization, and Mindfulness Meditation are three forms of stress management that have proven to be extremely beneficial. Our brains work hard and deserve a little R&R, so give your brain a break and relax. It might not get you that piña colada right away, but it will definitely give you a happier, healthier brain.

REFERENCES

Schatz, C. (Apr, 2011). “Mindfulness Meditation Improves Connections in the Brain.” Harvard Health Publications. Retrieved from http://health.harvard.edu/blog.

Scott, E. (Jan, 2011). “Mindfulness: The health and Stress Relief Benefits.” About.com Stress Management. Retrieved from http://www.stress.about.com.

Suttie, J. (Jan, 2008). “Mindfulness and Meditation in Schools for Stress Management.” Great Good Magazine. Retrieved from http://sharpbrains.com/blog.