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How to Relieve Stress in Your Daily Life

Stress can have physical and psychological effects on you.

You've put it off for weeks. But that pit in your stomach reminds you -- the work presentation or final exam you've been dreading is tomorrow. There's no way around it. You're going to have to do a whole lot of work in a very short period of time. As you drive to the local coffee shop to stock your body up on caffeine for a long night of work, it hits you -- stress. Stress is a natural part of our fight-or-flight response to fear, and lucky for you, it can make you more productive. But you should beware of overusing that stress response. Eventually it will backfire. It will make you more susceptible to illness and even less productive in the long run.
During stress, your brain sends messages to your body to release certain hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones cause your heart rate and blood pressure to rise, your muscles to tense up and your breathing to become short and shallow. Your digestive and immune systems shut down so that you can focus all your body's energy on the task at hand.
Given that your immune system temporarily shuts down and that your blood pressure rises, it makes obvious sense that frequent episodes of stress will gradually wear your body down. Your immune system becomes weak, which makes you ultra vulnerable to bacterial infections and viruses. Evidence also reveals that stress contributes to heart disease. Stress hormones will actually cause the body to increase blood clotting; therefore, stress can bring on a heart attack [source: BBC News]. Not only can being overstressed hurt you physically, it's also dangerous to your mental health. There is reason to believe that stress can trigger episodes of many disorders, including panic disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Have you ever taken a "mental health" day off from work simply to relieve stress? If so, you're not alone. As many as a quarter of people in the workplace have taken such days off from work [source: Washington Post]. More and more people are experiencing high levels of stress in their lives. According to sources, work is the biggest stress factor for adults [source: AIS]. Work provides a significant source of stress for over 60 percent of people in the U.S. [source: Washington Post].
Now that you know stress can have dangerous consequences, are you ready to take a step back and relax? Take a deep breath and go to the next sub-heading for advice on stress relief.

Exercise and Muscle Relaxation:

You've heard it before: One of the most effective stress reducers is regular exercise. Evidence shows that those who are in good physical shape don't have as many problems with stress [source: University of Iowa]. Have you ever noticed that as you exercise your mind turns to upbeat thoughts? That's because exercise releases endorphins, chemicals that promote good moods and positive thinking. Exercise also provides a good physical outlet for releasing that energy that stress builds up inside of you. In addition, exercise increases blood flow to your brain, allowing it more oxygen, which has numerous advantages, including promoting clear thinking. Various kinds of exercise work to reduce stress, so you can take your pick. Walking, running and playing sports all relieve stress. To get the stress-relief benefits, experts recommend setting aside a half hour a day for three days a week for exercise.
Massages can also significantly reduce stress by releasing tension in your muscles. Not only can a massage help with stress, but studies have shown that it can help boost your immune system, which may have been weakened during stress [source: MayoClinic]. Not all of us can afford money or the time for a professional massage. Luckily, there are a few methods of massage you can perform on yourself. You can give yourself an effective and stress-relieving massage on your hands, feet, face, arms, legs and shoulders. Gentle circular motions on your muscles for a few minutes at a time will help relieve their tension.
A physician named Edmund Jacobson invented a process in the early 20th century called progressive relaxation, which is proven to reduce stress. As with a self-massage, progressive muscle relaxation is something you can do all by yourself. Start with your head and work your way down to your feet, or do the opposite, as long as you generally go in one direction. If you start with your feet, focus on one foot at a time. Here are the steps:

  1. Gradually tense the muscles in your foot until you are contracting your muscles tightly.
  2. Keep the muscles contracted for about five or 10 seconds.
  3. Relax your foot.
  4. Pay attention to the release of pressure from the foot for a few seconds.
  5. Repeat these steps on the other foot and then move your way up your body, focusing on different muscle areas at a time [source: Helpguide.org].

In addition to these techniques, changing the way we breathe and taking breaks to practice meditation can go a long way in helping us relax.

Breathing and Meditation Techniques

If you pay attention, you'll notice that most of the time, we breathe with our chests. During times of stress, when our breath is short, we can relax and take in more oxygen if we breathe using our diaphragms, a muscle below our ribcage. When we do this, the chest takes in more blood, which is good for heart functions. Like other muscles, the diaphragm needs exercise to get strong.

  1. Place your hands on your chest and stomach.
  2. Breathe in deeply through your nose. Make sure that the hand on your stomach rises and the hand on your chest doesn't.
  3. Breathe out very slowly and then clench your abdomen muscles.
  4. Repeat these steps four times [source: AMSA].

Although often practiced by people in religious orders, meditation can be a useful method to relieve stress regardless of one's beliefs. Here are a few different kinds of meditations that supposedly relieve stress:

A Gray Issue:

Did your mother ever tell you that you were giving her gray hair? She might have been right. The legend that stress can make someone's hair prematurely gray has not been proven, but there are some theories behind how it might work. Certain cells called melanocytes produce melanin, the stuff that gives color to your hair (in addition to your eyes and your skin). When these cells die off, your hair loses its color. A minimal amount of melanin will produce gray hair, but complete loss of melanin will make hair white. One theory states that stress could produce things called "free radicals" which hurt cells. If free radicals attack the melanocytes near your hair follicles, you'd produce less melanin, and your hair would lose its color [Source: Ballantyne].

W.H.O. (1976).

The traditional healer, as defined by the w.h.o. (1976), is a person who is recognized by the community in which he lives as competent to provide health care by using vegetable, animal and mineral substances and certain other methods based on the social, cultural and religious background, as well as on the knowledge, attributes and beliefs that are prevalent in the community, regarding physical, mental and social well-being and the causation of disease and disability.

scriptures confirm the use of herbs

Romans 14: 2 (For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs).

Genesis 1: 29 (And one went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine, and gathered thereof wild gourds his lap full, and came and shred them into the pot of pottage: for they knew them not).

Psalm 104: 14 (He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth);

Ezekiel 47: 12 (And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, shall grow all trees for meat, whose leaf shall not fade, neither shall the fruit thereof be consumed: it shall bring forth new fruit according to his months, because their waters they issued out of the sanctuary: and the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine).

Proverbs 15: 17 (Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith).

Genesis 3: 18 (Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field);

Deuteronomy 11: 10 (For the land, whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out, where thou sowedst thy seed, and wateredst it with thy foot, as a garden of herbs):