Tuesday, January 19, 2010

RELAX: Feel the stress melt away

By Felicia K. Wong, M.D.

The winter snow may still be months away from melting, but now that the hubbub of the holiday season has passed, it’s time to rest, relax and de-stress!

Easier said than done right? For many of us, finishing one project just means we can start the next. We live in a fast-paced society where there is a lot of pressure (both external and internal) to “go-go-go”. In other words, we live in a world that is full of stressors and stress.

Our body responds to stress by producing stress hormones. These hormones help you respond to “fight or flight” situations and historically helped our ancestors run to safety from lions. However, these days there are (usually) no lions to run from and instead, when the body is chronically stressed, these hormones can take a toll on physical and mental health. People who are under a lot of stress are often emotional – anxious, irritable and depressed.

Ideally, you can try to change the situation that is causing your stress. But if the situation is fixed, there are relaxation methods that can be useful strategies to cope with stress.

Relaxation is a skill. It is something that we are not necessarily born knowing how to do. Good news! Relaxing techniques can be learned and practiced.

I’d like to share with you a relaxation technique called Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). This is a great way to reduce overall body tension. Here is a video to introduce the practice and help you get started:

Each person will find for themselves unique ways to relax – be it through exercise, yoga, music or meditation. PMR is just one strategy. There is no right or wrong way to relax, and no one technique that will work for everyone. So, find out which ones work the best for you and get started!

Before practicing PMR, consult with your physician if you have a history of serious injuries, muscle spasms, or back problems, because the deliberate muscle tensing of the PMR procedure could exacerbate these pre-existing conditions.

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