In today’s ultra-hectic world, figuring out how to forget the daily rush and find a way to relax can be something of a challenge, especially during the dreary end-of-winter months.
Not to worry: We’ve compiled a few tips and ideas from some local folks doing their best to calm down, go with the flow and relax.
Mom and daughter Kathy and Emily Doherty are both in the midst of more than average stress. Kathy is getting divorced and Emily is a single mom of a 3-year old. Toss in that Emily’s son is about to go to daycare for the first time and it’s apparent why finding time to relax is a top priority for both mom and daughter.
Kathy, an avid reader, has changed her reading list to help her soothe her worries.
“One thing I have done to help me relax is switch from reading non-fiction to fiction,” Kathy said. “Reading a beautiful or silly story instead of the stark truth of non-fiction takes me out of my own head and helps put everything into perspective.”
Emily ventures into the great outdoors to do some stargazing when she’s feeling overwhelmed.
“There’s something about looking up at a starlit sky that helps remind me how small and fleeting and not permanent our troubles are,” Emily said. “It doesn’t always calm me down, but it usually helps.”
Both Doherty women enjoy wandering around bookstores to relax. Neither are fond of malls, but thrift stores are another source of relaxation. One final relaxation tip that works for both women can be found in the comfort of their own living room.
“The one thing that does seem to calm both of us down is binge watching ‘Charmed’ on Netflix,” Kathy said. “Works every time.”
Shelly Holt’s day job is a mental health therapist for the Counseling Services of Southern Minnesota where she sees people who are facing all kinds of different stress inducing situations.
“Clients come in with all sorts of issues they’d like to address and almost all create stress responses,” Holt said. “Relationship problems are the No. 1 concern of most of my clients whether they are 6 or 70.”
Holt works with her clients to learn about the mind and body connection and what is within their control.
“I help them uncover what the triggers are, what their personal stress reactions are and how they currently cope with stress. So many people don’t realize that there is a connection between their mind and body,” Holt said. “Many people use unhealthy coping such as overeating, overuse of alcohol or other substances thinking that will help them to relax, but more often than not these things are excessive and counterproductive. I teach them what I know and practice myself. They can then try different methods and determine what works for them.”
What works for Holt are a variety of techniques including mindful activities such as focused breathing, visualization, yoga and prayer. Holt also meditates and listens to relaxing music, takes Epsom salt baths and uses aromatherapy.
“I get a weekly massage and I love to read,” Holt said. “In the summer I garden, take long walks and sit by the bonfire because those activities help ground me. I work hard to put a lot of margin around and am choosy with what and who I’m involved with because my occupation can be stressful.”
Holt also suggests staying away from sensory stimulating activities like watching too much television, spending too much time on the computer, fluorescent lights and loud music.
“No more 80’s rock bands,” Holt said. “They cause stressful responses in me.”
Holt said that the most important thing she has learned is when to use the word “no.”
“We often add or even create our own stress by overextending ourselves,” Holt said. “Some people relax by being with other or engaging in activities. I need solitude. It just depends on how one is wired.”
Brittany Bushaw has been a massage therapist for 10 years and a yoga instructor for eight. She currently works at Indigo Organic where, following a massage, she provides clients with yoga stretches and postures for them to do to help sustain the relaxation and tension relief achieved in the massage session.
“I have seen people have amazing transitions in pain relief by doing a few simple yoga stretches between massages,” Bushaw said.
Yoga is an intentional practice of moving the body in correlation with the breath. By focusing on deep breathing along with specific body movements, the mind becomes present in the moment and the outside world drops away naturally.
“Now that the mind is getting a break from thinking and is relaxed and still, the body then begins to feel the effects of the relaxed mind and follows suit,” Bushaw said.
Bushaw had a few suggestions for someone trying to relax.
“If you are tense I would suggest moving to a comfortable sitting or lying down position. Close your eyes and turn your attention to your breathing. Is it shallow? Short? Choppy? Try to breath in slow, deep, smooth breaths. Then turn your attention to where your tension lies. Breath into that space of tension or pain. Listen to your body and move slowly.”
Bushaw said that if pain is in the neck, lower the chin to the chest and the ear to the shoulder. If it’s upper back pain, begin to relax the shoulders away from the ears and roll the shoulders out. Hip pain can be alleviated by standing and swaying hips side to side with bent knees.
“Enter the tense places in your body with curiosity,” Bushaw said. “What in your daily life is causing the tension? What movement feels good and what movement creates discomfort? Yoga means union, and if you are breathing while focusing on mindful movement then you are doing yoga.”
Bushaw also said the most valuable relaxation tool is one that is with everyone at all times: our breath.
“By focusing on deepening our breath, our mind lets go and our heart rate slows down. Most people believe they need to set special time aside to relax or have their environment perfectly set up. While those are helpful, your mind and body don’t need all of that. They just need you to be aware of your breath and slow it down to relax,” Bushaw said.