Everyone these days seems to be busy all day, every day. But making time for relaxation is important, especially if stress is starting to affect your emotional and physical health. Even if you can only manage 10 minutes a day, doing some form of relaxation could do you the power of good.
The trick is to find a way to relax that suits you. So if the idea of sitting cross-legged and chanting ‘om’ or taking candlelit baths while listening to whale song makes you cringe, here are five surprisingly simple – and practical – ways to chill out:
1. Listen up
Want to feel calm? Put on a CD or plug yourself into your MP3 player and listen to your favourite piece of music. Japanese scientists have discovered that patients who were having a colonoscopy – which is hardly the most relaxing experience – had much lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol when they listened to music than when they had the examination in a quiet room. Listening to music, they say, has a measurable calming affect on the brain.
It does, of course, depend what type of music you listen to. So choose something soothing rather than something energetic.
2. Have a cuppa
Coffee can be useful when you want to get going in the morning or when you have a difficult task to do and you're feeling low on energy. But when you want to relax, switch to tea.
Whether green, black or oolong, tea contains a substance called theanine that has a calming effect on the brain. According to scientists from Japan, just 50mg of theanine – the amount you'd find in two or three cuppas – is enough to stimulate the production of alpha brain waves. These brain waves signify a relaxed, but alert, state of mind (in other words you're relaxed but you're not sleepy).
3. Chew gum
It may sound odd, but according to researchers from Northumbria University, chewing gum may help defuse tension. By measuring cortisol levels in saliva, the researchers discovered gum-chewing volunteers had levels that were 12 percent lower than others who weren't chewing. So keep a pack of chewing gum in your pocket and chew whenever you want to wind down.
Alternatively, eating a biscuit or something similar may alter your mood because it sets off emotional and chemical reactions in your body that can give you a temporary feeling of calm and wellbeing. Just don’t eat too many.
4. Take 40 winks
When you’re under stress, your blood pressure goes through the roof and puts added pressure on your heart. According to Dr James Maas, author of Power Sleep (Harper Collins), a short catnap of between 15 and 30 minutes is enough to lower your blood pressure, making you feel more relaxed.
5. See the funny side
Laughter can also help you feel more calm. Research shows it reduces stress hormones and blood pressure, while boosting the immune system and triggering the release of endorphins.
Psychologist Dr Steve Sultanoff is an expert on how laughter can be used to beat stress. ‘Distressing emotions and humour cannot occupy the same psychological space,’ he explains. ‘When we experience humour, our stress dissolves – even if it’s only for a few moments.’
When you want to relax, read a funny book or watch your favourite comedy programme on TV. Getting in touch with a friend who makes you laugh is another great way to wind down.