Although stress is generally not a primary complaint, it contributes to and can greatly exacerbate any pre-existing conditions or tendencies toward imbalance. By reducing stressors in our lives and reducing our own stress response to these triggers, many other aches and pains can soften and get easier to work with. Especially in the midst of a fast-paced and busy lifestyle, finding ways that work for you to let go of stress before it builds up unbearable pressure can be a pivotal piece in the process of finding inner peace and well-being.
There are a myriad of different methods and approaches to minimizing stress, and different ones or combinations work for different people. Here’s a (very) short list of ideas:
Lavender, cedar, sage, sandalwood, bergamot, geranium, and rose all promote relaxation. Try a few to find some that work for you. Some of these herbs are available fresh, and others in essential oil form. Whether using them in an eye pillow or adding drops to a bubble bath, the fragrances can support other relaxation practices or serve as their own breath of fresh air. Herb shops and health food stores are great places to find new scents in different forms to try out or bring home.
At a very basic level, taking some time to stop and be still and focus all attention inward (and/or toward any conception of the sacred or divine) can be a powerful reset button for stress. Whether your meditation practice includes mantra or prayer or silence, eyes open or closed, alone or with a group of other meditators, is more a matter or personal preference than anything else. If you don’t already have a meditation practice that works for you, try a couple different methods and see which is most conducive to falling into a space of contented ease and serenity. If you’re totally at a loss for what to try, most yoga studios offer meditation classes or workshops from time to time, and there are a number of different spiritual groups that meet to meditate regularly as well.
Although the human body will breathe enough to sustain itself on a basic level without any assistance, adding awareness and intention to the breath can up the level of functioning from basic survival towards thriving. In general, taking long, slow, deep breaths will calm the nervous system and help the body come out of sympathetic fight-or-flight mode and relax into the parasympathetic nervous system to rest and recharge. Counting breaths, or counting during breaths (try breathing out for longer than each inhale) can also help focus the mind and bring it away from stress-perpetuating thought patterns. Alternate-nostril breathing, with or without breath retention, can also help balance both sides of the brain, and ground the psyche and body. Regardless of your chosen breathing technique, I suggest sending at least a minute (and preferably 5 or more) each day, or whenever you’re feeling particularly stressed, to bring awareness to your breath and focus on smoothing and calming the flow of air into and out of your body.
As a general rule, energy needs to move. When it get stuck without a readily available outlet, it can build up tension and general discomfort. Any sort of body movement or physical exercise provides an outlet for any pent-up stress or tension, and can help keep it from accumulating. If you have something specific that you’re ready to let go of, you can also try visualizing it leaving your system along with any sweat, breath, distance, or other indicators of physical exertion. If you are working with an acute physical condition, respect your body and its limitations! That said, bringing some movement into the affected area can help with recovery by increasing circulation and energy flow in general.
Like physical activity, creative expression can create an outlet for stuck energy. Artistic expression and process-oriented artwork can also bring clarity or a new perspective to areas of stress or tension. Either in a one-on-one or small group setting, Art Therapy can help bring awareness and resolution to many emotional and/or psychological imbalances. On your own, try using free expression in your medium of choice (drawing, sculpting, writing, singing, etc) without thinking about or planning the way it unfolds. The pure release can be useful, and looking back over the “end” product hours or days later can yield interesting insights.