Ideas for stress reduction and relaxation
The hectic pace of University life presents unique
challenges that can drain us emotionally, mentally, as
well as physically too. The following activities are
suggestions for self-care practices that can help us
reduce stress, relax and recharge.
Creating a collage
Consider creating a collaged picture of what represents
relaxation for you – or of your “safe” or “happy” or “peaceful”
place. Do this by collecting magazines and snipping images and
words that appeal to you. Glue them on a poster board or on
the cover of a notebook, which can be used for journaling.
Include favorite quotes or copies of photos. Keep it where you
can see it and be reminded of rest, relaxation, peace, joy, love and
comfort when you need it.
Morning pages – Try this technique from Julia Cameron’s popular
The Artist’s Way book as a way to download worries and
“stinky thinking”. Every day (preferably in the morning)
write 3 pages in long-hand of whatever is on your mind. Don’t
worry about sentence structure, grammar, spelling, etc. Just keep
your hand moving across the page. This can also be helpful if you
can’t sleep or awaken early and can’t go back to sleep.
Writing prompts – Want to write in your journal but feel stuck or
terrified of the blank page? Try responding to prompts such as
“I am inspired by…” or “I remember….” or “If only…” or “I am
Descriptive details – Write about your perfect day or a place you
really love or the best meal you’ve ever eaten. Use lots of
descriptive details that engage all of your senses.
Gratitude journal – Try writing down 3-5 things every day that
you feel grateful about (it’s okay to repeat them). Or
consider these prompts:“what’s the season you are most
thankful for?” or “what are you most grateful for that brings beauty
to your life?”or “what challenging experience has ended up
changing your life for the better?” or “what act of kindness has
made a difference in your life?”
Create a “comfort basket” for yourself. Include your
favorite beverages (herbal teas? cocoa?); snacks; a favorite
DVD that lifts your spirits or makes you laugh; a warm pair of fuzzy
socks or a polar fleece throw; favorite music; books that inspire
you (poetry, anyone?) or make you laugh; aromatic relaxing oils or
lotions; puzzle books (Sudoku, crosswords, word search etc.);
handwork such as crochet, knitting or embroidery; modeling clay or
Play-Doh to squish and mold as you please; a journal; crayolas,
marker pens or good sketching pencils and blank paper for doodling;
postcards to jot a message to friends; rocks, shells, feathers or
other objects from nature; a small photo album of photos that
Relaxation and mindfulness exercises
Easy 5-4-3-2-1 Technique
Great technique for when you are feeling overwhelmed, out of
control, and need something to calm you down on the spot. It can be
done sitting or standing.
Here is how it's done:
Look around and name 5 things that you see. Name 5 things
that you hear. Start over; name 4 things that you see (can be
the same ones that you named before). Name 4 things that you
hear. Name 3 things that you see and 3 things that you hear.
Name 2 things that you see and 2 things that you hear. Name 1
thing that you see and 1 thing that you hear.
"I am relaxed" instant relaxation exercise
With this exercise, you combine the relaxing power of
breathing with an affirmation "I am relaxed." This has two
instant benefits: 1) through your breath you quiet your body;
and 2) with the affirmation you quiet your mind. You can do this
standing, sitting, or lying down.
To do this relaxation exercise:
You can keep your eyes open or close. Bring attention to
your breath. When you inhale say to yourself "I am". When you
exhale say to yourself "Relax". Breathe in - "I am". Breath out
- "Relax". Continue breathing and repeating the affirmation
for a few rounds. Let your breath move gently through your body.
If your mind wanders off, just come back to your breath and the
Tense/release muscle relaxation
- Seat yourself in a straight-back chair with feet flat on the
- Cross your arms in front of you, or grasp the arm rests of the
- Beginning with your forehead, wrinkle/squeeze it; hold and release.
- Raise your eyebrows; making your eyes as big as you can; hold and
- Purse your lips; then open your mouth as wide as you can; hold
- Raise your shoulders as high as you can; hold and release.
- Squeeze your crossed arms, or grip the chair rests strongly; hold
- Constrict your stomach muscles as tightly as possible; hold and release.
- Constrict your buttock muscles; hold and release.
- Press soles of your feet into the floor and tense your calf
muscles; hold and release.
- To end, take 3 slow, deep breaths and release fully.
Simple stress relief with square breathing
Looking for a simple way to soothe away tension during a
stressful day? Need a break to refocus your attention?
Square breathing is a simple, easy, and effective way to calm
yourself and enjoy a few minutes of tranquility.
It’s just four simple breath segments done to a count of four:
Inhale 2 3 4. Hold 2 3 4. Exhale 2 3 4. Hold 2 3 4.
Focusing on the breath and the count of four, repeat the same
process until you reach a relaxed state.
If you’d like to give your mind something more to focus on than
breathing and counting, consider adding a basic meditation to your
square breathing. Use any four-sided object (preferably a
square) as a visual guide (such as a window, picture frame,
post-it note, or computer screen).
Start by focusing on the upper left corner of the square.
As you inhale, move your gaze smoothly to the upper right corner.
As you hold, bring your gaze to the lower right corner. As you
exhale, move your gaze to the lower left corner. And, to
complete the cycle, as you hold, bring your gaze to the upper left
corner. Repeat, as needed.
Draw Mandalas and Zendalas
Drawing Mandalas and Zendalas (a Mandala and Zentangle creation)
can relax and focus the mind.
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