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Time-Release Stress Relief: Relax FAST at the Speed of Life

» Mental Health Library » Disorders & Conditions » Stress » Featured Article

By Ronald G. Nathan, Ph.D.

Ronald G. Nathan, Ph.D.

Can your stress wait for you to jog, meditate or talk with a friend? Over 60 percent of visits to doctors in this country are stress-related. It attacks not only our health, but our happiness as well.

Stress is the body’s preparation to fight or flee danger. It was important for prehistoric survival, but today we have few physical fights and almost nowhere to flee. Instead we clamp a lid on the stress response, building up frustration, muscle tension and dangerous chemicals.

Current remedies for stress are great if we take the time to use them. Exercise burns off the by-products of stress, yoga relaxes our bodies, and talking with a friend calms us down.

But not having enough time to take care of ourselves is part of the stressful life most of us live. Is there a way to keep stress from building up by relaxing quickly throughout even our busiest days? Even if you know a way to relax rapidly, do you remember to use it?

Most of us tune out our bodies and push though the day. People may tell us we need to slow down and relax, but seldom does anyone tell us how. If you already know how to belly breathe or tense-to-relax, imagine a sunset, count blessings, appreciate yourself, smile lovingly, or think positively, but forget to use your skill, skip down a few paragraphs to the FAST technique.

If you are new to belly breathing or need a refresher course, here it is. There is power in the simplicity of slow, belly breathing and in the wonderful domino effect it has on the body.

Yes, we all have a "fight-or-flight," "wear-and-tear" emergency response, but we also have a "stay-and-play, "rest-and-digest" relaxation/recuperative response. Just as stress and shallow breathing race the heart, raise our blood pressure, send butterflies into our stomachs, and tense up our muscles, relaxation and belly breathing reverse these unhealthy and unpleasant strains on our bodies.

To learn belly breathing, put your hand on your belly button. When you breathe out, push your hand in. When you breathe in, push your hand out. To deepen and slow your breathing, squeeze a little more out, so you’ll be able to take a little more in. Count how often you breathe. Most of us breathe 12-20 times a minute. Try for 10 or less during belly breathing.

If you want to be sure you are belly breathing rather than chest breathing, get down on your hands and knees. Breathe. This posture forces you to belly breathe because it holds the chest at rest. Of course, once you learn belly breathing, you can do it without putting your hand on your stomach, counting or getting on the floor.

You can belly breathe almost anywhere and anytime you want to relax. Start while you are waiting. The average American waits 40 frustrating minutes a day. We wait for red lights, elevators and cashiers. Callers put us on hold. Now you can give yourself a healthy stress break. As you get good at belly breathing, you can also use it when you are upset.

Have you taken or heard of time release medications or vitamins? What about time-released stress relief?

The FAST technique™ is a new way to cut through the noise of life, help us tune into the tension we usually tune out, and remind us to relax throughout even our busiest days. It’s a great way to treat or prevent stress-related illness and boost your happiness quotient.

FAST stands for Facilitated Awareness Stimulus Training. By setting an alarm to remind yourself to relax every five, ten or fifteen minutes, the stimulus of the alarm facilitates your awareness and trains you to relax more often. The alarm may be a quiet one on a digital sports watch, an electronic appointment book, a kitchen timer or a cell phone with a snooze feature. Pager-size timers with vibrating alarms can silently remind you to take a relaxing moment.

You may also use the periodic alarm to remind yourself to relax your shoulders or another area of your body where you tend to carry tension. Use the alarm if you want to smile more often, think more positively or practice any other brief approach to stress relief.

Most self-help articles and books emphasize the importance of practice. Maybe you were willing to practice, but other things got your attention and you gradually stopped practicing. The FAST technique™ will help you practice until it’s a healthy habit.

After about three months, you won’t need the alarm. You will be a happier and healthier person, enjoying life more fully.

About the Author...

Ronald Nathan, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in Albany, NY.

Last Update: 3/17/2008

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