Everyone has a stress signature, a certain way that their body feels when they are stressed. Developing an awareness of your stress signature is one of the keys to relieving your stress. The first step to change is awareness. Learning to become more acquainted with how and where your body stores its stress can help you to uncover the best ways to relieve that tension. As long as the stress remains under the surface of your awareness, then it will be difficult to relax.
The first place I’d suggest you focus on is your breath. Notice if you are taking short, shallow breaths. If you are, practice breathing in slowly and deeply. The deeper you breathe in, and slower you breath out, the faster you will relax. You may want to notice throughout your day how you are breathing. If you find yourself breathing in short, shallow breaths, change to deeper, slower breaths and then notice if there is a change in how you feel.
As you are moving throughout your day, pay attention to your bodily sensations. There are certain areas of the body I call “hot spots” or places where tension is often stored. For instance, notice how your shoulders feel. If your shoulders are up, you are bracing. Bracing is an unconscious response to stress. Practice relaxing your shoulders and allowing them to come down. Let the force of gravity help you to drop your shoulders. For many people, the moment the shoulders lower, they notice an immediate sensation of relaxation. If this is true for you, your goal would be to retrain our body so that whenever you notice your shoulders are up, practice bringing them down consciously.
Check other areas of your body where stress might be stored, such as your stomach, face, mouth, eyes, neck and back muscles. Notice if each of those areas are contracted or relaxed. If they are tense, give them permission to relax. Imagine them relaxing and releasing the tightness. Your body is always listening to you for instructions.
Take a moment for yourself now. Scan your entire body and notice if you are holding tension anywhere else? Concentrate on letting as many of your muscles relax as possible. The more areas you relax, the more cumulative your feeling of relaxation will be.
Continue relaxing all of your muscles while taking long, slow deep breaths in. Notice how you feel after three minutes of practicing relaxation in this way.
Your Relaxation Signature
In the same way that you have a stress signature, you also have a relaxation signature. That is, certain elements that will relax you faster than others. They may be related to things you see, feel, touch, taste or smell. Sometimes, it is the smell of food that we experienced when we were younger or moments experienced in nature.
It’s important when discovering your Relaxation Signature to determine what helped you relax and have feelings of comfort during your life. For me, it was the smell and taste of my mom’s chicken soup, the smell of baked potatoes in my house, or being at the beach with my family and watching the ebb and flow of the ocean waves. The moment I think about any of those moments, I relax. They become part of my relaxation tool chest. Once you have identified those elements that relax you, practice visualizing them prior to and during times of stress, and whenever possible, include those elements into your life.
As you begin the process of consciously discovering your Relaxation Signature, you can learn to retrain your body to remain more relaxed at will.