Brain Facts

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Turn to Relaxation Techniques: Music, Meditation, Exercise, Your Personal Rituals

Learning a few good relaxation techniques will serve you well. For example, simple paced breathing may sound too easy, but it's a great way to coax the body into a more relaxed state. It's something you can do at your desk at work, in your car, and before or after an event. Breathe in for four seconds, and then out for six. Count in your head, and focus on your counting and the sensation of your breathing. Repeat as long as it takes to relax a bit.

Dr. DeGroat suggested visualization as a relaxation technique; which he also mentioned as a coping mechanism for stress. Imagine that you're in the most relaxing environment that you can possibly think of, whether it's at home in bed or on the beach in the tropics. Wherever you think you would be most relaxed, stop and really put yourself there. If you're at the beach, he explained, ask yourself how warm it is, and whether there are clouds in the sky. Are you alone? Is it quiet, or can you hear the ocean? The goal here isn't just to paint a pretty, relaxing picture in your head, but also to get your brain working on those details?the more you do, the farther away your mind will be from whatever's triggered your anxiety.

You can get a similar benefit from music, exercise, or meditation. Relaxing music can take help take your mind off of your anxiety, or help you refocus after an anxious spell. Exercise is similar, but instead of just taking your mind away, it actually has a neurological benefit (as well as a physiological one). Gil explained that the endorphins released in our brains during exercise make us happier, and the feeling of accomplishment we get from regular activity can help curb anxiety. Meditation?especially guided meditation?can also help, since the entire point is to calm the mind and dismiss the errant thoughts that lead to anxiety and stress. Meditation can help you focus on your surroundings or be mindful of the present, instead of letting the background seep to the fore.

Finally, turn to your own relaxation rituals to take the edge off of your anxiety. If you don't have any, create some. They can do wonders for your mental and emotional health, and making sure you have positive habits and rituals you can turn to when you're stressed or anxious will make sure bad habits don't take root.

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