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PsychNotes Index

More PsychNotes: Mindfulness and Relaxation Methods

May 2, 2016       
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List of Stress Management Methods
by Monica A. Frank, PhD

yoga pose

To extend my PsychNote about which relaxation methods to use (Stressed About Managing Stress?), I have developed a list of methods that have been shown to help reduce stress and improve health. Excel At Life provides free audio downloads to help learn many of these methods.

Not every method works for every person. Also, just because something might be “relaxing” such as drinking a glass of wine, reading a book, or watching TV doesn't mean that it can be used to manage stress. To qualify as a stress management technique, a method needs to do at least two of the following:

1) Increase focused awareness. This a state of being fully present in the moment.

2) Create an alpha state. Brain waves measured by an EEG show different wave lengths (and depths) for different states. A beta brain wave is our normal waking state and delta or theta brain waves are sleep states. An alpha brain wave occurs during deep relaxation or intense focus.

3) Reduce cortisol. When we are stressed, cortisol is released in our system. In small amounts it helps manage stress, but large amounts can contribute to the development of health problems. Stress management can reduce the excessive amount of cortisol.

Stress Management Methods

The following stress management methods are the most common ones but this is not a comprehensive list. Also, these methods are not in any particular order. All, when used routinely, can be effective.

1) Breathing. There are many different breathing techniques. None are better than the others. What they all have in common is increased focused awareness on your breath. Excel At Life provides an audio, Mindful Breathing, that focuses on developing this awareness.

2) Guided imagery. This technique is a deeper relaxation created by listening to a descriptive audio or visualizing your own imagery. Excel At Life has a number of guided imagery relaxation audios.

3) Tai Chi. This is a physical exercise that can meet all the criteria listed above. However, when you are first learning the form it may be frustrating. It takes awhile before you can achieve the full benefit. When done correctly you also get the benefit of strengthening your body.

4) Qi Gong. Simple, repetitive exercises associated with Tai Chi that allows you to experience the relaxation effects more quickly. You may view Excel At Life's Qi Gong videos on YouTube.

5) Exercise. Many forms of exercise can reduce cortisol. In addition, some people may experience increased focused awareness with exercise because they are intensely focused on the movement of their body.

6) Mindfulness. The state of being presently focused can occur naturally or you can learn to create it. Although some people engage in mindful meditation, mindfulness can occur with many daily activities including exercise and work. To learn more, see Excel At Life's series, Understanding Mindfulness.

7) Meditation. Many of the previous methods are also forms of meditation. However, there are also very specific types such as Transcendental Meditation (TM), a form of mantra meditation, or yoga meditation. Meditation is a state of deeply focused awareness. Excel At Life has meditation audios for Loving Kindness and Compassion which are based on Buddhist meditations.

8) Yoga exercises. When practiced with breathing, yoga can not only reduce cortisol but it can also increase focused awareness. Excel At Life provides an audio for Yogic Breath Training, a meditation exercise.

9) Music. Fully focused on listening to certain types of music can create a state of mindful awareness.

10) Progressive muscle relaxation. This a technique of tensing and releasing the muscles to enhance relaxation in the muscles. Excel At Life provides an instructive audio for Progressive Muscle Relaxation.

11) Autogenics relaxation. This method teaches control over internal sensations. Excel At Life provides an Autogenics audio that focuses on increasing the sensations of warmth and heaviness.

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Dr. Monica Frank



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