Rather than suggesting that you take something to help you unwind, I propose three things that you can do to ease your stress. First and foremost, try breathing exercises. Practicing regular, mindful breathing can be both calming and energizing. You can learn how to do "the relaxing breath," the most important breathing exercise, elsewhere on this site. (For more instruction, you could buy or borrow my CD "Breathing: The Master Key to Self Healing.") The relaxing breath is the most powerful tool I can offer for stress management. Do it at least twice a day; it takes just a few minutes. Once you become proficient, you can use it anywhere, anytime to counter stress or to help you sleep. You can even try it on the way home from work as a way to wind down.
I also urge you to get some aerobic exercise daily. A brisk 45-minute walk is as good for your emotional well being as it is for your physical fitness and health. Exercise is a great way to dissipate the tension and anxiety that build up during the working day. It also is a very effective remedy for mild to moderate depression.
In addition, you can try progressive muscle relaxation as a means of releasing tension. Basic instructions are usually given in yoga and exercise classes, and are readily available from self-help tapes, massage therapists, or psychologists. Here is one common technique:
- Lie on your back in a comfortable position.
- Take a series of deep slow breaths and focus your awareness on different parts of the body in turn, becoming aware of any muscular tension. Start by tensing and relaxing the muscles of the upper face, then move on to the jaw, neck, chest, front of the arms, abdomen, thighs, lower legs, feet and toes. Then, do the same down the back of the body.
- Finally, lie still with your eyes closed, concentrate on your breath and enjoy the feeling of peace and freedom from tension.
Once you know how to do it, you can incorporate progressive relaxation into your daily routine. You may be able to modify it for a sitting position and use it to relax when things get stressful at work.
Andrew Weil, M.D.