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De-Stressing Techniques and Exercises

De-Stressing Exercises

There are many different mindfulness based techniques that can help bring relief from stress. What follows are some other de-stressing and meditation exercises you might find helpful. We encourage you to try them and find what works best for you. There are also websites you can visit that provide both audio and video tapes that will walk you through stress reduction and meditation exercises. These include;

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Relax in a Hurry

Mini-relaxation exercises help reduce anxiety and tension immediately, and you can do them with your eyes open or closed. You can do these exercises anywhere, any time, and no one will know that you are doing them.

Some good times to do a mini-relaxation exercise are when you are:

  • stuck in traffic
  • put on hold during a phone call
  • in your doctor’s waiting room
  • upset by what someone says to you
  • waiting for a phone call
  • sitting in a dentist’s chair
  • feeling overwhelmed by what you need to accomplish in the near future
  • standing in line
  • in pain

The basic method for doing a mini-relaxation exercise is quite simple: Put your hand just below your navel. Take a deep breath, bringing the air in through your nose and out through your mouth. You should feel your stomach rising about an inch as you breathe in and falling about an inch as you breathe out. If this is difficult for you, lie on your back or on your stomach, where you will be more aware of your breathing pattern. Remember to relax your stomach muscles.

Here are some variations:

Mini-Version 1

Count very slowly to yourself from 10 down to zero, one number for each breath. With the first breath, you say 10 to yourself, with the next breath, you say nine, and so on. If you start feeling light-headed or dizzy, slow down the counting. When you get to zero, see how you are feeling. If you are feeling better, great! If not, try doing it again.

Mini-Version 2

As you inhale, count very slowly up to four. As you exhale, count slowly back down to one. Thus, as you inhale, you say to yourself, one, two, three, four. As you exhale, you say to yourself, four, three, two, one. Do this several times.

Mini-Version 3

After each inhalation, pause for a few seconds. After you exhale, pause again for a few seconds. Do this for several breaths.

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Relax Your Body at Work

One of the most common questions asked about stress is, What can I do to de-stress during a busy day? Fortunately, there is something you can do for yourself when you need to release tension and stiffness or simply refocus your mind.

The following body-centred exercises work well in an office setting, as all you need to do is sit forward on a chair with your feet flat on the floor. You may increase the number of repetitions as your body grows stronger and more flexible. Take a few minutes at the end of the exercise to sit comfortably, noticing your breath and releasing tension with each exhalation. You’ll be ready to return to work feeling more comfortable and refreshed.

Here are some good relaxation exercises for the office:

Feet and Legs

With legs outstretched:
Alternate curling and stretching the toes. Repeat three times and relax.
Alternate flexing (bending) and extending (stretching) the whole foot at the ankle. Repeat three times.
Rotate the ankles to the right as if drawing circles with your toes. Repeat three times.
Rotate the ankles to the left. Repeat three times.

Arms and Hands

With arms extended out in front of you:
Move your hands up and down, bending from the wrist. Repeat three times.
Alternate stretching your fingers, then making a fist. Repeat three times.
Rotate your wrists three times, first to the right, then to the left. Relax. Repeat three times.


Either sitting or standing:
Raise your right shoulder up toward your ear. On the exhale, release your shoulder down. Repeat three times.
Move your right shoulder forward. On the exhale, return it to the starting position. Repeat three times.
Move your right shoulder back. On the exhale, return it to the starting position. Repeat three times.
Repeat the sequence on the left side.
Bring both shoulders up towards your ears, tense, then drop your shoulders down as you exhale. Repeat three times.

Head and Neck

Hold each of the movements described below, take three easy breaths and relax tension with each exhalation, then return your head to the upright centre position before doing the next movement.
Drop your chin to your chest. Feel the weight of your head stretching out the back of your neck. Hold.
Look as far as you can over your right shoulder. Hold.
Look as far as you can over your left shoulder. Hold.
Drop your right ear to your right shoulder. Hold.
Drop your left ear to your left shoulder. Hold.

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Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Be careful. Take care not to hurt yourself while tensing your muscles. You should never feel intense or shooting pain while doing this exercise. Make the muscle tension deliberate but gentle. If you have problems with pulled muscles, broken bones, or any medical issue that would hinder physical activity, consult your doctor first.

Progressive muscle relaxation is an effective and widely used strategy for stress relief. It is a great technique for reducing overall body tension. It involves a two-step process during which you tense and relax different muscles in the body. With regular practice, progressive muscle relaxation helps you become aware of what tension and its opposite-- complete relaxation--feel like in all parts of the body. This awareness helps you spot and counteract the first signs of the muscular tension that accompanies stress. As your body relaxes, so will your mind. You can combine deep breathing with progressive muscle relaxation for an additional level of relief from stress. As you practise tensing and relaxing all the muscle groups in your body, you can move to a shortened procedure, when you rapidly relax your whole body. As you reduce the tension you carry in your body, your whole being will feel less stress, and you will enjoy increased physical and emotional health. Here’s how to get started:

After finding a quiet place and several free minutes to practise progressive muscle relaxation, sit or lie down and make yourself comfortable. Loosen your clothing, take off your shoes and get comfortable. Take a few minutes to relax, breathing in and out in slow, deep breaths.
Begin by tensing all of the muscles in your face. Make a tight grimace, close your eyes as tightly as possible, clench your teeth, even move your ears up if you can. Hold this for a count of eight as you inhale. Now exhale as you relax completely. Let your face go completely lax, as though you were sleeping. Feel the tension seep from your facial muscles and enjoy the feeling.

Next, completely tense your neck and shoulders, again inhaling and counting to eight. Then exhale and relax. Continue down your body, repeating the procedure with the following muscle groups: chest, abdomen, entire right arm, right forearm and hand (making a fist), entire left arm, left forearm and hand (again making a fist), buttocks, entire right leg, lower right leg, right foot, entire left leg, lower left leg, and left foot.
For a shortened version, focus on the following four main muscle groups: face; neck, shoulders, and arms; abdomen and chest; and the buttocks, legs and feet. You can use progressive muscle relaxation to quickly de-stress anytime.

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Deep Breathing

Deep breathing is a relaxation technique that can be self-taught. Deep breathing releases tension from the body and clears the mind, improving both physical and mental well-being. We tend to breathe shallowly or even hold our breath when we are feeling anxious. Sometimes we are not even aware that we are doing it. Shallow breathing limits your oxygen intake and adds further stress to your body. Breathing exercises can help to reduce this stress.
The key to deep breathing is to breathe deeply from the abdomen, getting as much air as possible into your lungs. When you take deep breaths from the abdomen, rather than taking 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. This kind of breathing is called diaphragmatic breathing.
The importance of good posture while doing deep-breathing exercises (or at any time, for that matter) cannot be overstated. While sitting, we tend to slouch, which compresses the diaphragm and other organs, resulting in shallow breathing. Slouching also strains muscles in the neck and back. It is helpful to sit in a chair with good back support.

Here are some deep-breathing exercises:

Sit comfortably with your back straight. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Breathe in through your nose. Try to make the hand on your abdomen rise, while keeping the hand on your chest still. 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 inhale, but your other hand should move very little. 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. If you have a hard time breathing from your abdomen while sitting up, try lying on the floor.

Sit back in your seat. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Breathe again. Now make your hands comfortable while keeping your eyes closed.
Choose to place:
• one hand on your belly, one on your chest
• the palms of your hands on your knees, or
• your hands folded in your lap

Now sit back, feet on the floor, hands comfortable. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. Feel your stomach expand as your lungs fill with air. Now exhale through your mouth to the count of five. Pause. Repeat while inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth; slowly count to five. Again, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, counting to five. Sit and enjoy the calmness for a few minutes.

Turn your attention to breathing your tensions away. Focus on your feet. Feel all the sensations there, your feet and socks inside of your shoes, the pressure on the floor, and any other sensations. Now, as you take a deep breath, breathe all those feelings and sensations up into your lungs and then exhale them away Now, breathe in all those tensions in your legs and hips; take a big breath in and exhale those tensions away. Now do the same for your shoulders, arms, and hands-- breathe those tensionsaway. Do the same foryour neck, jaw, eyes, and forehead. Breathe away thos tensions. Now, with two final, deep breaths, go back and breathe away any residual tensions.

Sit up straight. Do not arch your back. First, exhale completely through your mouth. Place your hands on your abcomen, just above your waist. Breathe in slowly through your nose, pushing your hands out with your abdomen. This shows that you are breathing deeply. Imagine that you are filling your body with air from the bottom up. Hold your breath to a count of two to five, or whatever you can handle. It is easier to hold your breath if you continue to hold out your abdomen. Slowly and steadily breath out through your mouth, feeling your hands move back in as you slowly contract your abdomen, until most of the air is out. Exhalation takes a little longer than inhalation. You can also do this exercise lying on your back. You can use deep-breathing exercises to help you relax before you go to sleep for the night, or fall back asleep if you awaken during the night. You can also practice deep breathing exercises standing up (e.g., while standing in line at the grocery store), If you are really tense and feel as if you are holding your breath, simply concentrate on slowly breathing in and out.

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Guided Imagery

Guided imagery is a convenient and simple relaxation technique that can help you quickly and easily manage stress and reduce tension in your body. It is virtually as easy as indulging in a vivid daydream and, with practice, it can help you ease any tension and stress that you feel. When used as a relaxation technique, guided imagery involves imagining a scene in which you feel at peace, free to let go of all tension and anxiety. Choose whatever setting is most calming to you, whether it be a tropical beach, a favourite childhood spot, a therapist’s chair, or a quiet place in the woods.

Here’s how to get started with guided imagery:

Get into a comfortable position. If lying down will likely put you to sleep, trying sitting cross-legged, or reclining in a comfy chair. Close your eyes and breathe deeply, focusing on breathing in feelings of peace and breathing out feelings of stress.

Once you get into a relaxed state, begin to envision yourself in the midst of the most relaxing environment you can imagine. This might be floating in the cool, clear waters on a tropical beach and listening to smooth music playing in the background. Or it might be sitting by a fire in a secluded snowbound cabin, deep in the woods, sipping hot chocolate and reading a good novel while wrapped in a plush blanket and fuzzy slippers.

As you imagine your scene, try to involve all of your senses. What does it look like? What does it feel like on your skin? What special scents are involved? What is around you? Who is there or not there with you? What sounds do you hear? Do you feel any other sensations?

Stay here for as long as you like. Enjoy your surroundings and let yourself be far from what stresses you. When you’re ready to come back to reality, count back from 10 or 20 and tell yourself that when you get to number one, you’ll feel more calm and refreshed, like returning from a vacation. But you won’t even have left the room!

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Getting a massage provides deep relaxation, and as the muscles in your body relax, so does your overstressed mind. There are many simple self-massage techniques you can use to relax and release stress.

Here are some self-massage techniques:

Scalp Soother

Place your thumbs behind your ears while spreading your fingers on top of your head. Move your scalp back and forth slightly by making circles with your fingertips for 15-20 seconds.

Easy on the Eyes

Close your eyes and place your ring fingers directly under your eyebrows, near the bridge of your nose. Slowly increase the pressure for 5-10 seconds, then gently release. Repeat 2-3 times.

Sinus Pressure Relief

Place your fingertips at the bridge of your nose. Slowly slide your fingers down your nose and across the top of your cheekbones to the outside of your eyes. Repeat 3-4 times.

Shoulder Tension Relief

Reach one arm across the front of your body to your opposite shoulder. Using a circular motion, press firmly on the muscle above your shoulder blade. Repeat on the other side.

Foot Massage

Sit in a chair or on the floor. Get comfortable. You may or may not want to use lotion or oil. If you are sitting up, rest one foot on the opposite leg. Put one hand on top of the foot and the other closer to your toes, then stroke smoothly from your toes to your ankles. Glide your hands to the sole of your foot and massage the underside of your foot. Support your foot with one hand and with the other make a fist. With a circular motion, move along the sole of your foot. Support your foot with one hand and work on each toe individually. Squeeze and gently twist and stretch each toe. Stroke around the ankle with your fingertips, as you stroke up toward the leg and then glide back to your toes. Finish by stroking your entire foot again. Do the same for the other foot.

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Spiritual Practices and Aboriginal Teachings

During times of fear, anxiety and stress, your own faith and spiritual practice can be a powerful resource. Your spiritual practices may not always prevent these times of stress, but they can help you through them.

Some people are unaware that they actually have a spiritual side to their being. Most people actually routinely make use of spiritual practices but just not in a formal way or may not identify them as being spiritual.

Some routinely listen to music, take a walk, read inspirational words, or look at the stars. Some spend time gardening or in such creative activities as art, writing, or dance. Some participate in yoga, swimming, or body-energy healing. All of these practices hold within them a potential that is more than just exercise for the body. It can also nurture the soul, restore of the mind, and deepen our connection with the world around us. Many people who no longer attend formal religious services still continue to pray regularly, and this can often take the form of an inner conversation with a divine being.

When experiencing the stresses that come with living and change, it can be helpful to discover or reclaim your spiritual practices, whatever they might be; let them be part of your strength to heal and your pathway to health.

For many First Nations communities and peoples, traditional teachings based on the Medicine Wheel are important sources of strength. Some First Nations people follow the ancient philosophy of life known as “the good way or the Red Road.” This philosophy is based on the connection among all living things, to the Great Spirit, or Mother Earth, and to one other. The Seven Sacred Teachings or Seven Virtues remind us that we are all one, connected to each other. This sense of connectedness is central to individual and collective well-being. All the significant stages of life are marked by ceremonies that signify these stages. The most common are smudging and drumming ceremonies, sweat lodges, feasts, and ceremonial give-aways. These practices can have tremendous benefits in promoting health and well-being and in managing stress. Elders play a special role in Native society and can be a significant source of knowledge about traditional practices. To learn more about traditional teachings, consult the websites provided at the end of this handbook.

de-stress.ca, a project sponsored by the Government of Manitoba, Department of Healthy Living and managed by Klinic Community Health Centre Klinic Community Health Centre, Winnipeg Manitoba, Canada

Sponsored by the Government of Manitoba, Department of Healthy Living.
© 2009-2011 Klinic Community Health Centre • Winnipeg Manitoba Canada