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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

How to Meditate for Relaxation and Stress Relief

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How to Meditate for Relaxation and Stress Relief

Have you been feeling stressed out lately? Well, take some comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. Stress, in particular, workplace stress has become such a widespread problem that the World Health Organization calls it the “health epidemic of the 21st century.”

These days, many people are overwhelmed by their busy lives. They are feeling the pressure from work, family life, and other activities. All this activity is leaving them stressed and anxious. They know they need to relax, but they don’t know how. They are beginning to realize some of the health consequences of chronic stress, such as poor physical health, emotional disorders, and strained relationships.

The good news is that dealing with stress is a lot simpler than you might think. One of the simplest and most effective methods for stress relief is relaxation meditation.

In this article, I will discuss some of the health consequences of stress, what exactly relaxation meditation is, and how to practice it for stress relief. I will finish with a few sample relaxation meditations I found on YouTube, so you can get started immediately without any fuss.

Consequences of Chronic Stress

A great deal of research has been done on the effects of chronic stress. Here is a sample of some of the short-term and long-term effects.

Short-Term Effects of Stress

On your body, stress can cause headaches, muscle tension, chest pain, tiredness, lower sex drive, digestive problems, and difficulty sleeping.

On your mood, stress can cause restlessness and anxiety, depression, irritability, lack of motivation, inability to focus, and the general feeling of being overwhelmed.

On your behavior, stress can cause you to eat more (or less), anger outbursts, withdraw socially, and use substances, such as alcohol, tobacco, or drugs.[1]

Long-Term Effects of Stress

In the longer term, stress can have several consequences. It can diminish your mental abilities, such as concentration and memory. This can lead to poor judgment and decision-making.

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Stress can also affect your physical appearance. It can cause wrinkles, puffy eyes, adult acne, and hair loss. Stress can also cause your skin to appear dull and dry.

Heart problems are a common effect of chronic stress. It causes inflammation of the arteries around the heart, which makes the heart work much harder.

Several of the short-term effects of stress, such as sleep and digestive problems, will also persist over the long term. In addition, stress can weaken your immune system and leave you more vulnerable to illness, and make healing more difficult. All these effects of stress will essentially shorten your life span.[2]

What Is Relaxation Meditation?

Relaxation meditation is a term to describe several types of meditation. Their purpose is to help you relax your body and mind in order to relieve stress and anxiety.

To do relaxation meditation, you can listen to some slow relaxing music, or the sounds of nature, such as ocean waves. You can also do a self-guided body scan.

Here, you essentially sit quietly and move your attention to each body part and consciously relax your muscles in the process. There are also various forms moving meditation. I’ll describe all of them soon.

Benefits of Relaxation Meditation

Relaxation meditation, if done regularly, is one of the most effective methods for stress relief. In fact, it is so effective that sometimes just one session can completely relax a person who is all stressed out.

I’ve had people come into a corporate meditation session overwhelmed with stress, and after the session come up to me amazed that they are completely relaxed.

Stress relief through relaxation meditation is an effective way to avoid the health consequences of chronic stress described above. It will improve your mental abilities, such as concentration, memory, analytical thinking, and creativity. And as your mind relaxes, you will begin sleeping much better at night.

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Furthermore, relaxation meditation will improve your mood, which will lead to better interactions with others, especially loved ones.

How to Practice Relaxation Meditation

1. Guided Imagery

Probably the most popular form of relaxation meditation for stress relief is the guided imagery. This form of relaxation meditation consists of relaxing music, and/or sounds of nature, and a person’s voice to guide you on an imaginary journey.

It usually starts with a little mindful breathing, followed by a body scan to physically relax your body. Then the meditation focuses on relaxing your mind by taking you to an imaginary place that is safe, comfortable, and happy. It’s like going on a short vacation from all the things that are causing you stress.

The meditation generally uses a countdown to get you to this place, and includes a set of affirmations to help you relax. The countdown is almost hypnotic, and helps you assimilate the relaxing affirmations more effectively.

Once you reach the imaginary safe space, you normally stay there for a short period in order to let your body and mind relax further. After a while, the voice will slowly guide you back to where you started by counting up with more positive affirmations.

The reason the guided imagery form of relaxation meditation is so popular is because it is quite effective, and you don’t have to do anything except listen to the meditation and follow the guide.

2. Moving Meditation

Moving meditation describes a variety of different movements that are used for stress relief by calming the body and mind, and developing awareness. Some examples are yoga, tai chi, qigong, and walking meditation.[3] The great thing about moving meditation is that not only will it help you relax, but it will also help you stay physically active.

I recommend doing some form of moving meditation when you are too restless to sit still. You can either do a combination of both moving and sitting meditation, or an entire session of moving meditation. Both methods will help you relax.

I will sometimes start my meditation session with about five minutes of tai chi, then five minutes of walking meditation, and the remainder of the session in sitting meditation. This is a great way to work your way back into your meditation routine if you haven’t meditated for a few days.

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3. Self-Guided Relaxation Meditation

Some people are more inclined to do their own relaxation meditation. What they generally do is start out with a body scan, where they consciously relax the muscles in each body part.

After completing the body scan, they may then sit quietly for a few minutes following their breathing. They often play some relaxing music in the background.

6 Relaxation Meditation Examples

Here are a few of the best relaxation meditations I’ve found on YouTube. Some of them are so relaxing that they will put you to sleep.

Body Scan Meditations

1. Body Scan Guided Sleep Meditation (Lauren Ostrowski Fenton) (1 hr.)

This is a nice relaxation meditation that starts out with a body scan, and then leaves you with the soothing music to lull you into a deep relaxation. You can either listen to the entire hour-long meditation, or just part of it.

2. Guided Body Scan Meditation for Mind & Body Healing (Michael Sealey) (30 min.)

This is another relaxation meditation with a body scan. Michael Sealey has a deep soothing voice that makes it easy to relax.

 

Guided Imagery

3. Guided Imagery for Relaxation (Mark Connelly) (10 min.)

Here is a short guided meditation that takes you on a journey through a tropical forest. The guide is a female with a soft and soothing voice, and the sounds of nature make you feel like you’re really in the forest.

 

4. Guided Meditation For Anxiety & Stress (Jason Stephenson) (30 min.)

Jason Stephenson has some of the best quality meditations on YouTube. His voice is soothing, and he has the right choice of background music. This meditation takes you on a journey through the night sky.

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Relaxation Meditations for Sleep

5. Guided Meditation for Sleep… Floating Among the Stars (Jason Stephenson) (1 hr. 2 min.)

Here is another quality recording by Jason Stephenson. This meditation guides you into a deep relaxation as you float among the stars.

 

6. Guided Meditation – Blissful Deep Relaxation (The Honest Guys) (18.5 min.)

In this meditation, the music is soft and slow-moving, with gentle waves in the background. This is a relatively short meditation you can comfortably listen to right before you go to bed.

 

In addition to the above free guided-meditation, I’m also producing my own CD Inner Silence: Guided Relaxation Meditations for Inner Peace and Restful Sleep. If you’re interested, check it out here.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve read this article, it’s probably because you’re feeling a little (or a lot) overwhelmed, and in need of some stress relief. Maybe you have a high-stress job, or a lot of family commitments. Whatever the reason, you’re probably looking for a simple method for finding stress relief.

The health consequences of stress are many. It affects your body and mind. It also affects your mood, which has a significant impact on your relationships. And over the long term, some of the damage to your body may be irreversible. Put simply, stress keeps you from truly enjoying your life.

Relaxation meditation is a simple and effective method for stress relief. As you can see, there are a variety of different forms of relaxation meditation. You can either listen to a guided meditation or some relaxing music, or you can learn to practice one of the various forms of moving meditation, such as yoga and tai chi.

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So, don’t postpone your happiness. Try one of the meditations above, or find one you like, and start enjoying your life stress free.

More Tips on Meditation

Featured photo credit: Amelia Bartlett via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Charles A. Francis

Author, meditation teacher, and director of the Mindfulness Meditation Institute

How to Start Living in the Moment and Stop Worrying 20 of the Best Guided Meditations for Sleep and Insomnia How to Learn to Let Go of What You Can’t Control How to Cope with the 5 Common Stressors In Life and Feel Better 10 Ways a Silent Retreat Improves Your Mental Health

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Published on October 15, 2021

Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

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Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

When you think of anxiety, several scenarios may come to mind: the endless tossing and turning of a restless night, dread over potential future events, pandemic-related overwhelm, or full-blown panic attacks. Even if you’re not diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you’ve likely experienced anxiety symptoms at some point in your life. In these situations, you might feel a queasiness in your stomach, racing heartbeat, excessive sweating, chest tightness, some tension in your jaw/neck/shoulders, or worrisome thoughts as you prepare for the worst possible scenario. But does anxiety also make you tired?

After experiencing these symptoms, you may indeed feel fatigued. The sensation could fall anywhere on the exhaustion spectrum, from feeling like you just ran a marathon and need to sleep for two days, to just a little worn down and wanting a quick nap to recover.

Below are 7 ways anxiety zaps your energy and how to restore it.

1. Stress Hormone Overload

Anxiety can make you tired via overloading your body with stress hormones. The “fight or flight” response is a key connection between anxiety and fatigue. In fact, this process is made up of three stages: Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion. Anxiety triggers our body systems to go into high alert. This is a natural, involuntary reaction that developed in the human brain for survival.

When humans lived with the real, imminent threat of being attacked by a predator, it made sense for our bodies to spring into action without much preparatory thought. Such dangers are rare in modern times, but our brains continue to respond in the same way they did thousands of years ago.

The hormones and chemicals that flood our bodies to prepare us for safety can both affect and be affected by several body systems, and this interaction itself contributes to exhaustion. Adrenaline and cortisol are the two most notable hormones to address here. First, adrenaline is sent out, tensing the muscles and increasing heart rate and blood pressure in preparation to run. Later in the stress response, cortisol is released, enhancing the brain’s use of glucose. This is one of our main fuel sources, so it’s no wonder this contributes to fatigue (see #2).

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You can regulate baseline levels of these stress hormones by regularly practicing yoga, breathwork, meditation, and/or engaging in aerobic exercise.[1] It’s easier to lean into these routines for relief during stress when you’ve already mastered using them during times when you feel calm.

2. Elevated Blood Sugar Levels

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), which is shown to be associated with anxiety in diabetic patients.[2] Many people who experience hyperglycemia report feeling tired all the time regardless of their quantity or quality of sleep, nutrition, or exercise.

Although this connection has shown more prevalent and prolonged effects in diabetics, it also occurs with nondiabetics exposed to psychiatric stress.[3] In fact, for all people, the natural stress response elevates blood pressure and heart rate as well as cortisol levels, all of which increase blood sugar levels.[4] This means that anxiety causes a double-hit of exhaustion related to blood sugar fluctuations.

Instead of reaching for comfort foods like chocolate during times of stress, take a calming walk around the block. Gentle movement alone is a great stress reliever that incidentally also helps to regulate blood sugars.[5]

3. Negative Mindset

Anxiety can also make you tired because of repetitive negative thinking (RNT), which is a common symptom of anxiety. RNT involves continuous thoughts via rumination (dwelling on sad or dark thoughts focused on the past) and worry (angst regarding the future). Some researchers argue that having a longtime habit of RNT can harm the brain’s capacity to think, reason, and form memories.[6] While the brain is busy using its energy stores to fuel negative thought patterns, the energy available for these other more productive endeavors is thereby reduced.

Negative thoughts can also disrupt or prevent healthy sleep patterns, keeping our minds racing at night and effectively wreaking havoc on daytime energy. (See #7)

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Reduce these patterns by reframing your feelings over anxious thoughts. Instead of staying stuck on “what if,” focus on what you can do in the here and now. What activity can you engage in for five minutes (or more) that brings you joy? What are you grateful for, no matter what’s going on around you?

4. Digestive Issues

It’s common for people to experience both intestinal and mental issues simultaneously. This suggests a strong connection between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is known as the gut-brain axis.[7] Simply put, what happens in our digestive tract (and as a result of what we eat) affects the brain and vice versa.

The gut microbiota is a complex population of GI tract microorganisms. When its balance is altered, the body can develop conditions that affect the gut-brain-endocrine relationship. The endocrine system produces and manages adrenaline, for starters. And the gut bacteria’s production of feel-good hormones (serotonin and dopamine—see #5) ties into this relationship as well.

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors are also found in gut bacteria. GABA is a natural brain relaxant that makes us feel good by helping the body to unwind after a stress-induced neurotransmitter release (e.g., cortisol and adrenaline). When GABA activity is low, it leads to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mood disorders. These are just a few of the manifestations that demonstrate how gut bacteria influences behavior. All of these contribute to feeling both physically and mentally tired.

You can minimize the symptoms of depression and anxiety by keeping your gut microbiota balanced with probiotic-rich fermented foods. Yogurt with live cultures, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, miso soup, and tempeh are great foods to include in your diet.[8]

5. Depression

Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. Research continues to indicate a complex relationship between depression and decreased serotonin—a key neurotransmitter for regulating mood and feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Anxiety is also a direct symptom of serotonin deficiency. Serotonin helps with healthy sleep, mood, and digestion.

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Serotonin is produced in the gut, almost exclusively, at an estimated 90 percent. However, a small quantity is also produced in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that is pivotal for transmitting energy balance signals. This small cone-shaped structure receives and relays signals transmitted via the vagus nerve from the gastrointestinal tract. It has a central role in mediating stress responses, regulating sleep, and establishing circadian rhythms. It senses and responds to a myriad of circulating hormones and nutrients, directly affecting our mood and energy.[9]

Dopamine is another mood-boosting neurochemical that is depleted in depression. It creates feelings of alertness and wakefulness and, when the body is operating normally, is released in higher amounts in the morning (allowing for daytime energy) and lower at night (preparing for healthy sleep). Stress is one factor that can deplete dopamine, thereby leading to depression, sleep disorders, and fatigue.

Studies show that dopamine levels in the brain can be elevated by increasing dietary intake of tyrosine and phenylalanine.[10] Both of these amino acids are naturally found in protein-rich foods like turkey, beef, eggs, dairy, soy, peas, lentils, and beans.

6. Breathing Problems

Breathlessness and anxiety are closely linked, and this is one of the ways anxiety can make you feel tired. Anxiety can lead to shallow breathing, which can cause shortness of breath while feeling breathless can exacerbate anxiety.[11] It’s a vicious cycle that often leads people to take rapid and shallow breaths, breathing into their upper chest and shoulders.

This type of breathing minimizes oxygen intake and usability. Despite comprising only two percent of the body, our brains consume 20 percent of the body’s oxygen supply. Oxygen is fuel for both mental and physical tasks. When breathing patterns compromise healthy oxygen levels, this can cause considerable fatigue.[12]

End the anxiety-fatigue cycle with focused breathing exercises. It’s important to practice this regularly while you’re not experiencing anxiety or stress, as this will help you to be prepared should a moment of breathless anxiety hit unexpectedly.

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There are several different styles of breathing exercises. There’s an easy one to try, called “Resonant Breathing.” Simply breathe in slowly through your nose as you count to five, then exhale for a count of five. Repeat this for a few minutes. It’s helpful to bring your awareness to any tension, deliberately relaxing your neck, shoulders, and jaw in particular.

7. Sleep Issues

Most of the elements we’ve already discussed inherently tie into sleep issues, which is often the reason why anxiety can make you feel tired. But it’s important to note that this is not always a directly linear cause-and-effect process. Much of it is cyclic. If we don’t get enough quality sleep, we increase our risk of excessive cortisol production, elevated blood pressure and blood sugar levels, depressed mood and mindset disorders, and dysregulation of appetite/craving hormones that affect our digestive health.

Sleep is obviously the number one antidote to feeling tired as a result of anxiety. But at the same time, many of these elements—including anxiety itself—lead to less-than-restorative sleep. We can improve our energy levels by addressing each element discussed here, as well as taking a proactive approach to our sleep health.

One simple habit to help recalibrate your circadian rhythm for healthy sleep patterns is to get outside in the morning. Sunlight exposure in the early hours of the day regulates melatonin production, helping us to feel sleepy at night.

You Don’t Have to Live Your Life Anxious and Exhausted

Times of extreme stress, like driving in heavy traffic or nerve-wracking situations like public speaking, can easily induce an anxiety response. Even “normal” everyday stressors, like feeling overwhelmed with work and home responsibilities, can build up to anxious feelings over time.

Our bodies’ response to stress and anxiety affects many of its functions in complex ways. When we unravel the interconnections of these processes, we can see how each part plays an intrinsic role in contributing to fatigue. By addressing each element individually, we can make simple lifestyle changes that resolve anxiety and diminish the ways it makes us tired as a result.

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More Tips on Coping With Anxiety

Featured photo credit: Joice Kelly via unsplash.com

Reference

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