To Destress, Tell Your Brain What to Do

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To Destress, Tell Your Brain What to Do

Home / CULTURE / BALANCE / To Destress, Tell Your Brain What to Do
Therapists weigh in on the best ways to relax when you're feeling stressed.
"Take charge of the content of your thinking."
-Mary DeRaedt

Today our work is more complicated, our social lives are harder to prioritize, and it’s easier than ever to be bored.

No wonder we’re stressed.

You’ve heard about meditation, smiling, and delegating as some of the most powerful ways to destress. But true relaxation begins in your head.

“While all of these things can help to relax your body, your mind is still going to engage in stressful processing, says therapist Mary DeRaedt. “Whether you take a walk, go for a run, or take a breath you must make the decision to focus your thoughts on helpful and positive thinking.”

To help you “take charge of the content of your thinking” we collected relaxation tips from therapists, trainers, and healers around the country. Here’s what they said:

Take a ‘sacred bath’

“Research shows that water induces a relaxation response,” says Dr. Paulette Sherman, psychologist and author of, The Book of Sacred Baths: 52 Bathing Rituals to Revitalize Your Spirit. “I’ve been taking a sacred bath– which combines meditation, prayer and visualization– daily for over two years. You can imagine all stress and negativity going down the drain and bathing in love.  I always have increased energy, creativity, inspiration and a sense of peace afterwards.  It disconnects you from outer stressors like disruptions, chaos, phones and internet so you can connect with inner stillness and guidance, all of which combats stress.”

Hug a friend

“Hug someone,” says Dawn Maslar, a biologist and researcher in the science of love. “When you have that type of contact –hugging, touching, or petting– you produce oxytocin. Oxytocin and the stress hormone cortisol are inversely proportional. Like opposite ends on a see-saw, normally when one is up the other is down.”

Breathe deeply

“My absolute favorite way to destress is deep breathing,” says a mental health therapist Mallory Grimste. “Breathing deeply helps you calm down on a biological level.”

“Our bodies still react the same way to danger and stress as it did when we were cavepeople: our digestion slows down so we have more energy to run away, our pupils dilate so we can see better peripherally, and our breathing becomes faster. The one thing we can control over is our breathing; so when we slow it down, we actually activate the opposite, calming effects, and can relax and think more clearly.”

Go out and play

“Play encourages you to focus on the moment, thus creating more mindfulness in our daily life,” says group therapist Esther Boykin.

“Meditation is powerful, but it’s not always easy to start a meditation practice. There’s no learning curve or practice involved… you’ve known how to be playful and have fun since childhood.”

“Play for some people may be quiet activities like painting, playing board games, or reading a fun book. For others it can be going on a group hike, wine-tasting, or going to festival.  And for others it may be much more active like joining an adult kick-ball league,

And for others it may be much more active like joining an adult kick-ball league, signing up for an obstacle course, or joining a fitness class. Play allows us to break free of this ‘future-focused thinking and get back to enjoying the moment right in front of us in a way that’s easy and fun.”

Write things down

Nicole Amesbury, is Head of Clinical Development at Talkspace. “The choices you make are currency and you are spending your life,” she says. “Every hour is of value. Just as people write all the things they “have” to do into their schedule, you need to write things you want to do into your schedule and then keep your appointment with your life.”
Janine Halloran, a Mental health counselor, and the Founder of Coping Skills forKids, believes “a gratitude journal is a way to train our brains to think differently.”

“We tend to focus more on negative things and we have to train ourselves to think positive. Using a gratitude journal and writing down three things that went well during the day helps you focus on the positive.”

Go dark

It is always a good idea to “disconnect from technology for a while,” says licensed counselor Tina Arnoldi. “Chronic distractions (like social media) can result in feeling a loss of control, which then result in anxiety. When we don’t start training ourselves to not engage in distractions, we become so used to it we have trouble settling down at the end of the day.”

Give yourself a ‘poor mans massage’

“Incorporate self-myofascial release (or SMR) into your daily routine by foam rolling,” says celebrity professional trainer Robbie Davis.

“Sometimes referred to as ‘the poor man’s massage,’ it will help your body stay loose, reduce muscle stiffness and soreness, and melt away stress.”

Tell your brain what to do

An expert in overeating and high-weight clients, Karen Koenig has taught her clients how to de-stress in ways that don’t require them to turn to food or other unhealthy coping mechanisms.

“One of the simplest ways to do destress is through self-talk and telling yourself not how you feel– ‘I’m so stressed, I’m overwhelmed, I can’t handle this’, but how you want to feel– ‘I’m calming down, I’m relaxed, I’m handling this just fine,’ says Karen. This approach works because our brain does what we tell it to do.”

about the author

Ursula Lauriston
Ursula Lauriston
Ursula Lauriston is the Editor-in-Chief of CAPITOL STANDARD Magazine-- DC's fastest growing niche brand and lifestyle publication. A dynamic speaker and syndicated columnist, she has been featured in HuffPost, Black Enterprise, The Vault, and more. Connect with Ursula on Twitter @Urdiggy.