Health: Unwind and de-stress

Finding time to relax can be difficult. With work, family and hectic social lives, it can seem as though proper relaxation takes a back seat. Fortunately, there are many ways to make relaxation a part of your everyday life.

Try tryptophan

Many of us reach for food when we are stressed, however, this may be no bad thing as certain foods actually help us to relax. Foods containing tryptophan, an essential amino acid, are great to stock up on when you need to calm down or unwind. The nutrient helps to raise serotonin levels which can elevate your mood, and melatonin levels, which can help induce sleep. Good tryptophan-rich foods include nuts, cheese, turkey, chicken and soybeans.

Get active

If you feel stressed out, one of the best things you can do is go for a run or to the gym. Although you may feel more inclined to veg out in front of the TV to relax, exercise is great for releasing mood-boosting chemicals such as endorphins and anandamide, which can help lower anxiety and increase mental well-being. As well as having a great effect on your mood and stress levels, exercise is also good for taking your mind off problems and helping to induce sleep.

Take deep breaths

If you are short on time, one of the quickest ways to relax is to take a few deep breaths. Anxiety can cause people to breathe more rapidly than normal and taking deep, slow breaths can be an effective aid to relaxation. If you frequently feel anxious or stressed, it can be helpful to implement deep breathing in your regular routine by doing breathing exercises regularly or joining a yoga, Pilates or meditation class; all of which use deep breathing to promote relaxation and well-being.

Listen to music

Many of us are aware that listening to our favourite music puts us in a good mood, and studies have found that music reduces stress. Research has shown a strong link between music and lowered stress levels in everyday life and also indicated that music can lower extreme levels of stress in people undergoing surgery, critically ill patients and pregnant women. Rather than seeking "relaxing" genres of music, it is best to go with your individual taste and choose whatever music boosts your mood.

Stock up on chocolate

Good news for many is that chocolate - one of the world's most popular comfort foods - is also calming. Chocolate is high in magnesium - which can help relaxation - and also contains anandamide, a neurotransmitter which can help to experience a feeling of peace. With high levels of phenylethylamine, chocolate also raises endorphin levels.

Have a hug

Hugging is a renowned mood booster, and research findings published in Psychosomatic Medicine have reinforced what we knew all along - that having a good old cuddle is great for reducing stress. Having physical contact has been found to raise levels of oxytocin - the "love hormone" - and reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, putting us in a more relaxed frame of mind. Human affection is not the only type that counts, however, as owning a pet has also been linked to lowered stress levels, meaning that playing with your pet could be a great way to wind down after work.

Pamper yourself

One of the best - and most luxurious - ways to unwind is to treat yourself to a spot of pampering. If your budget extends to it, you could have somebody else pamper you by heading to a health spa or beauty salon for a massage, facial or beauty treatment of your choice. Or indulge in a bit of DIY pampering by running yourself a bath, lighting some candles and lying back with a relaxing facemask and some calming music.

Have a laugh

Laughter is well-known for its therapeutic effects, and many places offer laughter therapy or laughter yoga classes to people seeking to boost their health and mood. Studies have found that even the anticipation of laughter can help us to relax by lifting our spirits and reducing stress levels in the body. If you are serious about your relaxation, you could consider attending a laughter class, but chilling out with a funny DVD, book or friend is an equally great option to help you relax.

Try aromatherapy

To really make the most of your senses, turn your home into a relaxing sanctuary with a scented candle or some relaxing essential oils. Good essential oils for relaxation include chamomile, lavender, neroli, bergamot and ylang ylang. Use these oils to aid relaxation by adding a couple of drops to a bath, burning them in an oil burner or adding (sparingly) to water to use as a room spray or skin spritzer.

Get in the moment

There are various things you can do that will help you relax. However, if you are distracted and not, as it's said, fully present in the moment, it is unlikely you will benefit fully from any relaxation technique. If you find it difficult to switch off from your stresses and cast off past regrets or worries about the future, try making a list of anything that needs to be done or thought about at a later date, set a time and date to deal with each item, then switch off your mind, cast your cares aside, and focus for now on simply enjoying the moment.

For more lifestyle news see

- Hamilton News

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