In This Chapter
^ Knowing what relaxation can do for you ^ Practicing different relaxation strategies ^ Rooting out things that ruin sleep ^ Capturing pleasurable sleep ou're running late. You dash to the car and drive a little too fast. Your cellphone rings, and you reach for it on the seat next to you. When your eyes return to the road, you see that the car ahead of you has come to a dead stop. You stomp on your brakes and barely avoid an accident — an enormous parking lot looms ahead on the freeway. You feel every muscle in your body tighten up, your heart pounds, and you begin to sweat. Drat! Another rotten start to the day.
Modern life supplies a never-ending string of opportunities for revving up your entire system. Your body prepares you to react to perceived dangers and stressors by orchestrating a complex response:
1 Your brain sends messages to your nervous system to go into high gear. 1 Your eyes widen to let in more light. 1 Your heart beats faster.
1 Your digestion slows so that energy is available for large muscles, which tighten. 1 Blood flow increases to the arms and legs so that you can run or fight. 1 Sweating increases to keep your body cool.
All these responses are pretty handy if you need to physically defend yourself or run away. But typically speaking, most folks don't jump out of their cars to beat up other drivers or abandon their cars and run to work. Well, okay, maybe in L.A. they do.
The costs of chronically revving up your body's fight or flight response include high blood pressure, chronic muscle spasms, tension headaches, suppressed immune system, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, and on and on. That's a rather high price for responses you rarely need.
In this chapter, we look at the benefits of relaxation. We give you some quick, effective strategies for teaching your body to chill out, even when you find yourself in stressful situations. Finally, we show you how to enhance the quality of your sleep, which increases your ability to cope with stress.
Relaxation: What's in It for Me?
We know your life is probably hectic and stressed, and time is hard to come by. Learning to relax takes some time, so why in the world would you want to devote precious minutes to the task of relaxation? We can think of a few pretty good reasons:
1 Reduced blood pressure 1 Improved immune response i Increased sense of well-being i Reduced anger i Better sleep i Decreased risk of heart disease i Decreased risk of chronic diseases i Reduced pain i Decreased anxiety i Improved mood i Improved ability to cope i Improved productivity
Not a bad deal, is it? Relax for a few minutes of each day, and you'll improve your health and sense of well-being. Not only that, you're likely to make up for the time lost through relaxing by becoming more efficient and productive.
Maybe you're a pretty calm person and don't need to learn to relax. How do you know? Take a few minutes to complete the following exercise which will help you decide whether or not spending a little time learning to relax is a good idea for you.
1. Think about your days over the last week.
2. In Worksheet 13-1, write down all situations and times when you felt truly calm and relaxed.
3. Write down all the situations and times you recall feeling tense and stressed.
4. Take stock of your life, and reflect on whether you need to do something about your approach to relaxation.
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Although rather rare, some people report that relaxation techniques sometimes actually induce a sense of panic and loss of control. If that starts to happen to you, cease practicing the strategies covered in this chapter and consult a mental health professional.
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