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How to relax

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hammock on a beach
Some achieve total tranquility by taking a vacation to paradise
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Relaxing takes on different forms for all of us

Picture this: Palm trees and hammocks. A rainy day with a good book. A day at the movies.


OK, snap out of it!

Unfortunately stress is a factor in all of our lives. How we deal with it is a totally personal experience. There is no magic button to make the stress disappear. We are constantly on the move, constantly planning and plotting and devoting time to our family and friends, our jobs, our homes. Rarely do we take time for ourselves, and when we finally do we usually have to plan that, too.

Relaxing takes on different forms for all of us. I relax by reading my favorite magazines or escaping into a good movie. For others, relaxation is accomplished through physical activity - a full-body massage, outdoor recreation (like hiking or biking) or meditation. Still, others may achieve tranquility by taking a vacation, curling up for a long-overdue nap or playing hooky from work for a day.

It doesn't matter what we do to relax; what is important is that as individuals we understand the triggers that cause our stress and learn how to relax accordingly.

Here are five common stressful situations and suggested techniques on how to relax when you find yourself in the thick of them:

1. My family is driving me up the wall: You pick your friends, not your family. On occasion you are reminded of this, too, when your children (or parents) drive you crazy with their unruliness or unrealistic demands. You can't change your family; all you can do is adjust your own attitude toward them. And sometimes speaking your peace just doesn't do any good. One way to combat this type of stress is to write it all down. The act of getting it all out there, on paper, is a great way to relax and regain yourself. It also helps you to see the bigger picture.

2. Take this job . . . From an micromanaging boss to unattainable goals, job stress runs the gamut. Sometimes the best way to combat stress on the job is to leave the job. I'm not saying you should quit. Go take a walk. It helps to get fresh air and walk it off. Walking helps rejuvenate you, while at the same time allows you to decompress and gain a new perspective on a stressful situation.

3. Don't be a hermit: Sure, the social aspects of our lives are supposed to be fun, but they can sometimes prove daunting. Think about dating, mingling with strangers at parties or public speaking. These situations can all trigger stress. Avoidance seems like the easiest method to combat social stress, but unless you want to hole up in a cave for the rest of your life, it isn't a very practical solution. In these situations, it helps to tap into your humorous side. Laughter breaks the ice like nothing else and generally puts people at ease. Take a shot at yourself if you have to, just don't make it a habit.

4. I hate change! Obviously there is nothing we can do about change but change with it. This is easier said than done, especially when things are running smooth in our lives only to be catapulted into chaos by some random act - losing a job, losing a family member, the life list goes on. Because dealing with change is a process, simply taking a walk might not do the trick. You may need to talk about your feelings, get them out there, whether to organize yourself or for closure. Whatever the case, expressing yourself to a friend or counselor will help you stay relaxed through a major change.

5. Yoga, anyone?: Physical stress can take an emotional toll. Our bodies will tell us when they are burned out; it's up to us to listen. How to relax an overworked body ranges from exercising to eating healthy to getting a massage. The main thing is to rest. If you're working too hard, take a couple of days off. If you worked out too hard, again, take a couple of days off. You have to take care of your physical self in order to relax your emotional self.

And if you still need a little extra advice on how to relax, remember this Chinese Proverb: "Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are."

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