Stress is becoming a national health crisis: Here are some simple relaxation techniques

CLEVELAND, Ohio – What’s stressing you out? Whether it’s money, family needs, or your boss is pressuring you to finish that big project early, experts agree that we all need to relax more.

Don’t you agree? The American Physiological Association survey found that most Americans suffer from moderate to severe stress, with 44 percent of respondents reporting that their stress levels have increased in the past five years.

Worries about money, work and the economy top the list of the most frequently cited sources of stress.

“There are literally too many reasons to list them all for what causes stress in our daily lives,” said Erin Troy, YMCA West Shore Branch Wellness Director.

“I think one of the biggest factors is that we have so many expectations placed on us — whether it’s from our families, from our jobs, or just from these expectations that we put on ourselves,” she said. “And then we feel like we don’t have time to take care of ourselves. All of this can lead to a lot more stress than we have to deal with on a daily basis.”

Troy believes that many of us don’t even realize that stress affects our bodies and our health.

Being tired during the day or not having enough stamina to do everything on the to-do list is often written off as a lack of a good night’s sleep, which can lead to high blood pressure or cause hormonal disruptions in our body that can manifest in several different ways.

So, relax. But how?

August 15 is National Relaxation Day and, according to Troy, the perfect time to start “a lifelong practice of relaxation and self-care.”

For starters, Troy said we all need to find a way to stop putting everyone else in our lives first and stop feeling guilty about taking time for ourselves.

“Yoga and meditation have been around for thousands of years because they have proven to be an effective way to find balance and centering – but there are many people who find them mind-bogglingly boring,” explained Troy. “The key is to find something that calls you, motivates you, something you’ll want to do every day.”

If meditation isn’t your thing, consider simple things like a walk or a bath, or treat yourself to a nap or a massage. “Or treat yourself to a really special bottle of wine or a rich chocolate that you wouldn’t normally be able to afford, and then – really – taste it.”

Troy also recommends getting outside and letting the sun’s vitamin D—which has been shown to have relaxation benefits—boost your mood.

Or just get dirty. “Take off your shoes and enjoy the feeling of dirt and grass under your feet. Really ground yourself and connect with nature. People are amazed at what something so simple can do to help them de-stress,” she said.

Another effective stress reliever is gratitude. Buy a journal and each day write down three things you are truly grateful for. Or meditate on the good things in your life as you drift off to sleep, a practice Troy said will allow you to “really get that restful, restorative sleep that we all need.”

Don’t forget to include your family and pets in your efforts to find a better balance in life.

“Recognize that everyone in your family is stressed these days, whether they’re feeding off of you or dealing with their own stress,” she said. “Recognize that everyone has stress and include family and friends in your relaxation practice.

“We often think of relaxation as ‘me time,’ but it doesn’t have to be,” Troy said. “Find something you can all enjoy doing together, and then do it, even if it’s just walking together, sitting and talking, or playing with your kids in the backyard and getting dirty together.”

And don’t forget physical contact.

Troy said hugs are “one of the best stress relievers we can have.

“In our busy and stressful everyday life, we tend to forget how lucky we are to have each other. We’ve been avoiding hugs for the past few years. Don’t hug your family members, hug your friends, you will be amazed at the results.

“Just remember, while National Relaxation Day may be a great time to start a relaxation practice, remember that it’s a ‘practice,’ something that needs to be done every day to be effective,” she explained .

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