Long-Term Stress Relief

Immediate stress relief feels great, but it's also important to build up your psychological resilience for the long term. The essential method is simple: first, let go of the "bad," like tension, sadness, or troubling thoughts. Then, when you have released these burdens on your mind, you will have created a space in yourself in which to take in the "good," such as positive experiences of happiness and self-worth. You can prevent or reduce depletion by the regular practice of these fundamental stress-reduction techniques. And over time, that practice will make a lasting difference in your own psychology, leading to improved mood and greater insight into yourself and other people.

You can let go of stress in each part of your inner world, including your body sensations, mental images, emotions, desires, and thoughts. Let's begin with the body.

Relaxing Your Body
There are many ways to relax your body even in the middle of a busy day:

  • A few times each day, sweep your attention through your body, noticing the places that are tight or uncomfortable, and consciously relaxing them. Key places to look for tension include your eyes, jaws and tongue, diaphragm (located just below the rib cage), and pelvic floor.
  • After going to bed but before falling asleep, you can systematically relax the parts of your body. Just bring your awareness to each part - left foot, right foot, left ankle, etc., all the way up to your scalp - and let it relax.
  • Breathing techniques are great ways to relax. The easiest one of all is to just take a big breath and let it out slowly. Or inhale deeply and hold it for a few seconds before exhaling gradually, and then try not inhaling for a few seconds after you exhale. Perhaps imagine that your breath is going in and out of some tense part of your body; for example, you could get a sense that you are breathing into a tight neck or nervous stomach. Occasionally try to breathe from your diaphragm by placing your hand on your stomach just below the arch of your rib cage and having each inhalation push your hand away from your backbone. This is an especially good technique for letting go of anxiety. You could experiment with techniques from yoga, such as: inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth; inhaling through your left nostril (closing the right one gently) and exhaling through the right nostril (closing the one on the left); taking several breaths by following a rhythmic count: inhale for five, hold for twenty, exhale for ten, and hold the exhalation for ten (adjust the pace of the count for your own comfort); or breathing rapidly and forcefully in and out of your nose for half a minute or more.
  • When lying down, imagine being very heavy, so weighty that you are sinking down into the earth.
  • Imagine that your hands are getting very warm, as if you had a cup of cocoa between them or were holding them before a cheery fire; this is particularly helpful for going to sleep.
  • Tense your arms or legs for a few seconds and then relax.

Resources for Letting Go
The Relaxation Response by Herbert Benson
Focusing by Eugene Gendlin
Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh
The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook by Martha Davis, Mathew McKay, and Elizabeth Eshelman

Using Mental Imagery to Release Stress
We are mainly aware of our verbal thoughts, but actually, most of the brain is dedicated to nonverbal processes. That realm is a vital part of who you are, and by becoming more able to enter the fertile, wise world of images, daydreaming, and fantasy, you'll gain both stress relief and self-knowledge. Whenever you get tired of the yammering voice in the back of your head - the one that just said, "What voice?" - you can try one of these suggestions:

  • Recall or imagine a relaxing experience. Maybe you're on a tropical beach, feeling the warm sun and a gentle breeze playing on your skin, with the soft murmuring of happy people - perhaps your children - nearby. Or you could be walking across a mountain meadow, surrounded by wildflowers and the sound of babbling brooks, with the crisp smell of distant snow in the air. Try picking images of situations that are the opposite of the ones that are causing you stress. For example, if you feel like you're unable to solve a problem with your child, you might imagine successfully skiing down a challenging slope, or if you feel unable to break out of a sticky situation at work, imagine sailing freely under gorgeous skies.
  • Visualize little faucets at the tips of your fingers and toes, and your body filled with colored liquid.
  • Open the taps and let the liquid drain out, taking with it all of the tension within you. Notice any remaining liquid, indicating stress that is not yet released, and encourage every bit of it to drain away.
  • Imagine stresses or upsetting experiences flowing out of you each time you exhale, like a smoggy cloud exiting whenever you blow out a breath. Or get a sense that you are standing in a warm and beautiful river, and that the water is cleansing you of stresses, carrying them away and out to sea.
  • If you've had an upsetting experience that you'd like to let go of, imagine putting it on a rocket and sending it to burn up in the sun, or on a big red balloon that disappears into the sky, or on a raft that floats down a river to the sea. If it's meaningful to you, you could imagine releasing the experience to God.
  • If an ongoing situation is stressing you out - let's say one of your in-laws is passing judgment on how you are raising your child - imagine using a pair of glowing magic scissors to cut apart the connection between you and the situation.


From Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships by Rick Hansen, Jan Hansen, and Ricki Pollycove. Copyright © 2002 by Rick Hanson. Jan Hanson, and Ricki Pollycove. Used by arrangement with Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit amazon.


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