Stress management is not a luxury. From parenting to work-stress to paying bills on time, there are many things that can trigger the stress reaction known as the fight-or-flight response. If you do not keep your stress in check, you may wind up with any number of stress-related complications, including migraines, anxiety, diabetes and hypertension.
This will not only cost you money and time, but will reduce your quality of life and add – you guessed it – more stress! You know managing your stress is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your child. But where do you start?
The Relaxation Response
If you are like most people, your time and resources are at a premium. Stress management is just one more thing on the to-do list. The good news is you don’t need to rearrange your whole life, or move to a remote village, to reduce stress. All you have to do is follow the instructions below for 20 minutes a day to elicit your body’s natural Relaxation Response.
Coined by Dr. Herbert Benson of the Harvard Medical School in the late 1960s, and supported by decades of extensive research, The Relaxation Response refers to our natural ability to reverse the harmful effects of stress. It reduces your heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and even gives you a sense of wellbeing.
It is easy to learn, too. Try it for yourself and then share it with your children. It is an investment that will pay dividends now and for years to come.
The research indicates that 20 minutes a day for 8 weeks is all you need. In addition to the classic Relaxation Response meditation outlined below, prayer, yoga, and deep breathing can elicit the response.
In addition to your 20 minute a day practice, Dr. Benson suggests eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, and engaging in a dialogue with a medical professional regarding your health and wellness if the need arises.
Modifications For Children
It is never too early to teach your child how to manage their stress. Modify this exercise to set them up for success. Start with a short period of practice. Three to five minutes is a good start, and you can increase the time as their focus allows.
An alternative to focusing on one word is counting the number of exhales. Make it a game to see how high they can count, but be sure to impart this critical component:
Success is not about how long you stay focused. What matters is that you try, and when you get distracted, you try again.
Exercise: The Relaxation Response
Use a kitchen timer, or download a meditation app for your smartphone to keep time. That way you don’t have to sneak a peek at the clock, and you can fully engage in the practice. After all, this is your time to relax too!
- Find a place where you can be in silence and undisturbed for 10 to 20 minutes. If that amount of time is not available, take what you can get! Frequency is the key. A few minutes a day is better than a 20 minute session once a week.
- Close your eyes, and spend a minute or two mentally scanning through your body. Start with your feet and working your way up to the crown of your head. At the same time notice your breath, and imagine that you could invite each muscle group to relax.
- Enjoy 3 to 4 deep breaths, and let the exhale fall out of your mouth with a sigh.
- Pick a word or short phrase (3 to 4 words at the most) that you would like to use as your object of focus. This could be a word such as “relax,” or “peace,” a short prayer, or a neutral word such as a number or color.
- Breathe naturally and without effort. On each exhale, silently repeat your word or phrase.
- It is normal to get distracted or forget to repeat your word. Dr. Benson suggests cultivating a “passive disregard” for everyday thoughts. When you discover you have fallen off-track, just begin repeating the word again without criticizing yourself.
- When your practice time is up, spend a few more moments simply observing your breath before opening your eyes. Try to carry this feeling with you throughout the rest of your day.
Compare how you felt before and after this exercise. How did you feel? How did your child feel?