Everyone deals with stress, but for some people, stress can be crippling. Stress is one cause of anxiety, which is increasing across the United States. Currently, anxiety affects 40 million adults in the U.S. — 18.1% of the population, up from 5.12% in 2008. This uptick has led the American Psychological Association to dub anxiety a "national mental health crisis" in its most recent report.
Currently, anxiety affects 40 million adults in the U.S. — 18.1% of the population, up from 5.12% in 2008.
Meditation, a mindfulness practice, can reduce stress and anxiety and create relaxation. Current and future mental health counselors who want to learn more about meditation and relaxation might consider an online master's in clinical mental health counseling. This degree can teach learners to help others work through stress and anxiety.
Understanding the Fight-or-Flight Response
Common triggers of stress include finances, work, and family problems. Even having a bad day can cause stress, depending on an individual's ability to work through stressful situations.
Humans have an acute stress reaction, known as the fight-or-flight response. Physiologist Walter Cannon first coined this term in the early 1900s, but fight or flight has evolved throughout history. The brain causes a series of actions in the body to enhance survival. When the brain detects stress, it sends signals to other parts of the body to alert the person of a potential problem.
Stress and anxiety are both reactions to the fight-or-flight response. However, anxiety is a more persistent condition than stress. Common symptoms of stress and anxiety include:
- High blood pressure
- Sadness or depression
- Sexual problems
- Overeating or undereating
- Behavioral problems
- Lack of motivation
- Panic attacks
- Breathing difficulties
- Cold or clammy hands
- Dry mouth
- Obsessive thoughts of worry or fear
Stress and Anxiety
- Difficulty concentrating
- Rapid heartbeat or chest pain
- Sleep difficulties
- Trouble sitting still
- Social withdrawal
Stress and Anxiety Reduction Techniques
For some people, stress and anxiety make it difficult to see the positive things in life. These individuals may benefit from meditation and other relaxation techniques, which may help manage thoughts and symptoms. While meditation is a practice, relaxation is a state of being. Meditation and other exercises may lead to relaxation.
Meditation is mindful, requiring practitioners to focus their attention to relax. Other relaxation techniques, like listening to relaxing music and working out, help people de-stress through distraction. Yoga is one example of a relaxation technique that combines meditation and exercise.
Meditation for Beginners
Meditation, one of the best ways to relax, leads to potential health benefits, like decreased blood pressure, better sleep, and reduced anxiety and stress. You do not need to be an expert to enjoy meditation and relaxation. The steps below outline a meditation for beginners. These instructions may help you relax your mind and become more comfortable with the practice.
How to Meditate
- Sit or lie comfortably in a spot in which you feel relaxed. It could be in your backyard or bedroom, for example. Your space should be free of any distractions. Be sure to wear comfortable clothes, too.
- Set a timer for your meditation practice. When just beginning, shoot for 5-10 minutes.
- Close your eyes. Get in tune with your motivation for meditating. Concentrate on your "why," such as feeling happier or working through stress. Keep this reason in mind as you meditate.
- Focus on your body and breathing. You should be aware of your body's placement and how it feels. Pay attention to your breath as it goes in and out, ensuring that you keep it slow and steady.
- If you notice your mind wandering, reel it back in. Keep your thoughts on your breathing and your body. Each time you pull your thoughts back to your meditation practice, you train your brain to be mindful of the task at hand.
- When your timer stops, slowly open your eyes and remain in your meditating position for a few more seconds. Focus on your thoughts, emotions, and physical body, as well as your surroundings. Then, make it your intention to bring your post-meditation calmness with you throughout the day.
Meditation requires acute mental focus. If you struggle to concentrate or want to try simpler stress-reduction techniques, consider one of these other relaxation techniques instead.
- Getting a professional massage can quickly ease your stress and anxiety, putting you in a calmer state of mind. You can also perform a self-massage by gently kneading your shoulders, neck, and temples to relieve tension. Self-massage is a quick relaxation technique you can use at home or in the office.
- Although yoga involves meditation, you can use it to relax even when your mind is not in a meditative state. Yoga creates fluid movements and incorporates deep breathing, in turn lowering your heart rate and relaxing you. By the end of your yoga routine, you might find yourself able to meditate.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation
- PMR works to tense and relax each muscle group separately, bringing your focus to the technique rather than on your stress or anxiety. Start by tensing the muscles in your toes for five seconds, breathing out, and then releasing the tension for 10-20 seconds. Continue with each muscle group, working your way up to your shoulders and neck.
- Belly Breathing
- A form of deep breathing, belly breathing can ease tension and help you regain your focus. To do this, sit or lie down with one hand on your chest and the other just below your ribs. Take a long breath in through your nose and out through your mouth, being mindful of how your hands rise and fall. Repeat several times until you feel your body and mind relax.
- Music or Art Therapy
- Music and art have the power to soothe, making them excellent relaxation activities. Listen to relaxing music for stress relief as you lie down for a few minutes. You might also paint a picture, knit a scarf, or make a scrapbook. Through your exploration of art and music, you might find a new hobby that allows you to work through your stress.
More Ways to Relax
You can achieve relaxation through just about any activity that makes you happy and stress-free. Some people enjoy reading, knitting, crafting, or cooking. Other people like to listen to music, clean or organize their surroundings, or take a soothing bath.
However, serious and prolonged anxiety symptoms may require additional help to work through, such as professional counseling or medication. If you experience frequent or severe anxiety symptoms, consider seeing a therapist. Check out the resources below to find information about improving depression and mental health.
View other resources for improving your mental health:
Frequently Asked Questions
Are stress and anxiety the same thing?
No. Stress often comes from a stressful situation that triggers it and typically goes away when the trigger is no longer present. Anxiety can be more persistent, usually stemming from frequent worry or fear.
What is the difference between meditation and relaxation?
Relaxation can come from any activity that helps you feel calmer, including meditation. Meditation is an act of relaxation that requires mindfulness to reap its benefits. Practicing regular meditation may lead to better anxiety and stress control.
How long should I meditate for the first time?
Learning how to meditate takes time. It's best to start meditating for short intervals, like five minutes. Doing so allows you to practice meditating and relaxing your mind before moving into longer meditation sessions.
What relaxation techniques are best for anxiety?
Any activity that helps you feel relaxed when you are anxious is best. Meditation can promote a state of relaxation. Other stress reduction techniques include yoga, massage, deep breathing, or art therapy.
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