The Vitality of Natural Environments for Stress Reduction
The simplest methods of sensory immersion are also sometimes the best ones. One of the best strategies is to simply make it a point to spend some time in a natural environment. If you don't have access to a truly wild setting, then one that is filled with growing things can be a great substitute.
Research suggests that we benefit physically and mentally from contact with nature. For example, patients recover better from surgery when their hospital windows look out on peaceful nature scenes. Watching aquariums has been shown to lower blood pressure and produce a state of calm relaxation.
In order to help help you combat stress, look for ways you can experience the natural world around you. For instance, visit a park or garden and take a walk there, letting all of your senses appreciate the beauty. Allow your eyes, ears, and nose absorb the pleasant sensations surrounding you.
If your routine is too tightly scheduled to allow for a visit to a natural or wild place, then bring a little bit of nature to you, perhaps by obtaining a few living plants and placing them near your desk where you can see and smell them. Even a decision to pause (if only for a moment on a hurried walk home) and look upwards to briefly ponder the magnificence of the earth and sky can make the difference in your life if you do it with focused attention.
Aromatherapy, a technique involving the diffusion of various essential plant oils into the air so that they can be inhaled in order to influence the mind and body, is one of the oldest forms of relaxation therapy. Concentrated scent essences have been used since ancient times to promote and restore physical, mental and emotional health, and impart a sense of well-being. Various aromas are thought to affect stress levels, hormone levels, metabolism, appetite, body temperature, immunity, sex drive, and conscious thoughts and reactions.
Various essential oils are thought to produce specific effects. Some are said to be uplifting and energizing, while others are characterized as calming and sedating. Still others are said to help balance mind and body. Relaxing oils include: bergamot, chamomile, jasmine, lavender, marjoram, neroli, rose, and ylang ylang. Others, such as clary sage, coriander, elemi, fennel, frankincense, palmarosa, rosewood, sandalwood, and vetiver are also recommended to assist with stress problems. Basil, benzoin, cedarwood, geranium, lavender, lemon, myrrh, orange, patchouli and thyme are said to produce a balancing effect by either stimulating or relaxing you, depending on your body's needs.
Aromatherapy is a good complement to other stress reduction methods and is easy to incorporate into your life. Essential oils and defusers can be purchased in many health food stores and online. As well, various aromatherapy bath and body care products, perfumes, massage oils, and environmental fragrances are also available in the bath and cosmetics sections of many department stores.
Music and White Noise
The restorative, healing quality of music has been recognized since ancient times. It is no accident that the ancient Greeks recognized a single deity, Apollo, as the embodiment of both medicine and music. Music influences heart rate, respiration rate, blood pressure, stomach contractions, electrical conductivity in the brain, and levels of stress hormones in the blood stream.
The physical characteristics of different kinds of music help to determine how it will affect people. People tend to experience high-pitched music as happy and playful, while lower-pitched music feels sadder and more serious. The faster the beat, the more music tends to heighten people's alertness and arousal. Slower music can lower the body's stress response. Music that follows predictable patterns can be experienced as either soothing or boring, depending on personal preferences, while music with a more unpredictable pattern may be experienced as stimulating or annoying, also depending on personal preferences.
You can (and probably already do) use music to consciously alter your moods. To decrease stress, begin by listening to music that matches your existing mood. If you are tense, try starting out with a song that more or less matches your tension. From that starting position, select and listen to a few additional songs which are progressively more soothing. The ready availability of MP3 players with their programmable playlists makes this graduated technique relatively easy to implement.
White noise is a sort of noise static, containing all audible frequencies that people can hear in approximately equal proportions. It sounds like a television tuned to a non-broadcasting channel, the rush of the wind, the roar of the ocean, or (to an infant) the sound of the maternal heart beat. White noise generators are often used to create a noise background sufficient to drown out conversation when privacy is desired. Because many people find white noise to be soothing and relaxing, such generators can also be useful for stress reduction. Sophisticated yet inexpensive white noise generators are available for the home which replicate natural forms of white noise such as the roaring of the ocean and rain storms. Such noise generators produce soothing background ambient noise and can help promote restful sleep, particularly in noisy environments. There are also audio recordings of nature noises which can be played to produce the same effect.