Stress affects both our physical and mental health and it’s a significant problem in Australia. According to the Australian Psychological Society’s Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey , 35 per cent of us report a significant level of distress in our lives.
Stress is a natural response to the body being challenged in some way. It can be a result of a physical demand (like lifting a heavy object) or an emotional one (like moving house). In small bursts, stress can be beneficial, helping us avoid dangerous situations or meet deadlines, but prolonged periods of stress can have an impact on our health.
Forms of chronic stress, such as depression and low levels of social support, have been implicated in increased cardiovascular risk . And in some people, stress can contribute to emotional overeating and obesity.
There are a range of relaxation techniques that can help to relieve stress. In yoga, for example, we use our breathing to centre us, keeping us relaxed and in the present moment.
Here are a couple of techniques to help you become more relaxed and mindful:
We often intuitively use our breath to relax the body and mind. Equal breathing focuses on breathing deeply into the belly, rather than chest. By deepening and slowing down exhalations, we can lower our heart rate and blood pressure.
- Settle yourself in a comfortable position, either seated or lying down, and at a comfortable temperature.
- Start by deepening your breath, letting it flow as deeply into your belly without forcing it.
- Breathe in and out through your nose and focus on equalising the length of your breath: inhale to the count of four and exhale to the count of four.
- Continue for three to five minutes.
Candle meditation for mental stillness
A lot of thoughts and emotions can run through your head when you’re stressed; meditation can help you reach mental and physical stillness. It can be difficult to achieve this stillness with your eyes closed though, so one useful technique is to focus on an object, like a lighted candle.
- Prepare your space by dimming the lights or drawing the curtains: lower levels of light reduce eyestrain and overstimulation.
- Ensure you’re in a comfortable, seated position and at a comfortable temperature.
- Place a lighted candle about arms distance away, at eye level or slightly below. Make sure you’re not slouching or overextending to focus on the flame.
- Breath fully and deeply while staring at the flame and allow this image to fill your mind.
- It’s normal for your mind to wander or for your eyes to begin to water. Aim to practice the candle meditation for a few minutes at first and increase gradually over time.