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Monday, June 09, 2014 - Relaxation Strategies for Times of Stress

From Rev. David Reeves, Jr., Martin Health Chaplain 

When I was in college, I lost a filling in my tooth and went to the dentist.  After he examined me, he asked if I had some difficult exams coming up. “Why do you ask?” I said.  “You have some stress ulcers in your mouth,” he said.  

That encounter was when I became personally aware of how stress affects us physically.
  Since that day in the dentist’s chair I’ve learned that stress is a normal physical response when we feel threatened, out of control, or that our world is out of balance. 

The factors contributing to stress are varied and may seem overwhelming at times but we can control our responses in order to bring us some balance.
  When dealing with stress, remember the four A’s:  Avoid, Alter, Adapt, or Accept.  As a chaplain and music practitioner at Martin Health, I utilize two of the A’s in our relaxation meditation--adapt and accept. There are many relaxation strategies to choose from in helping us manage stress.  

The following are two relaxation methods I use myself and with our patients, families and staff here at Martin Health.

1. Deep Breathing: Breath from the abdomen, rather than shallow breaths from your upper chest, you inhale more oxygen. The more oxygen you get, the less tense, short of breath, and anxious you feel. It is a way to relax mentally, emotionally, and spiritually

a. Sit comfortably with your back straight. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
b. Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise. The hand on your chest should move very little.
c. Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little.
d. Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls. Count slowly as you exhale.
e. Concentrate on your breathing until it feels natural.

2. Musical Relaxation Response: Using soothing music and directive imagery, this relaxation meditation helps you find calmness within.

a. Play soothing music or nature sounds
b. Take a few minutes to relax, breathing in and out in slow, deep breaths
c. Think of a place where you felt happy or peaceful. Let the music carry you there.
d. As you listen to the music, mentally look around. See what is there, for example, trees, stream, birds, etc. It will be a different place for each person.
e. Stay in this place and feel your emotions of peace and contentment, breathing deeply and slowly.
f. Move slowly through this environment until you feel relaxed.
g. When ready, leave that place, listening to the music, knowing you can return anytime.

You may also use relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing to activate the body’s relaxation response and reach a state of restfulness.
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