*Stress Relief Exercise*
By: Tailgunner
21 July 2004

Thinking about stress this morning. Folks, stress kills, constant stress kills faster. Some people seem to handle stress better than others, some are able to cope with the stress and continue with the mission at hand, in fact stress can help in some cases with your responses. However, there are some that don’t handle stress well at all. We can all benefit by knowing about stress and how to manage it.

Our office recently bought an automatic blood pressure cuff. A couple of us in the office were playing with it and checking our blood pressure. When it got to be my turn I tested at 137/86, being 53 years old the other guys were impressed that mine was the lowest of our group. But then I said something stupid like “hey watch this” and I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and pushed the button again. Only a couple minutes later my blood pressure was 117/72. The difference was a relaxation exercise I learned a number of years ago to relieve stress. I practice this technique a couple times a week whenever I think I am getting stressed. It works well for me. Sometime in about 1980 in the middle of my military carrier we had the staff psychologist visit (yeah MI had its own staff psychologist at the headquarters level, in Virginia) he had done a study, as part of his responsibilities, on the average number of retired paychecks members of different services received after retirement. In other words, how long did someone live after retiring from military service. As I recall it was not an exhaustive study, nor did it take into consideration rank, assignments, specialty etc. but, for purposes of his presentation it hit us between the eyes. He said that the average number of monthly checks issued to Army soldiers and Marines after 30 years service did not even get into the teens (in fact if memory serves correctly, Army was one or two checks more than Marines). Navy was “up there” in the 40s or 50s and Air Force was even higher. His contention was that stress was a major part of what killed people. Since then I have found numerous holes in his “study” as I remember it, but I have been concerned with the effect Stress has on my body and what I can do to minimize its negative effect. Believe it or not exercise, a healthy diet and relaxation help a lot with how we individually deal with stress. As soldiers we were already doing daily exercises, running and had a good diet (I didn’t complain about Army chow until I got to tour the Nimitz for a week just before I retired, really fun trip - arrested landing, cat shot off the deck to leave...just too cool). But our idea of relaxation (as a group) was a visit to the bars and clubs. As part of his class we were taught “relaxation techniques” a couple of which have stuck with me, perhaps because they work for me.

What I do is to first sit back, away from my desk or computer or whatever. Then I straighten my back, lift my head up, put both feet flat on the floor, hands in my lap or rest my arms on the armrests on my chair, tighten up all my muscles and take in a deeeeep breath, try to take in more, not too fast nor too slow either, but really deep. Then while letting it out slowly I close my eyes and concentrate on relaxing one muscle level or layer at a time. Like, first my neck, then my shoulders and upper arms, then lower arms and hands, then my chest and upper back, then lower back and abdomen, then hips and upper thighs, then legs and finally feet. I then try to concentrate on my heart beat, at first just trying to feel it and hear it beating within my chest. That usually brings my BP down a little depending on what it was before I started.

One of the other techniques that I have used was to again sit back, away from your desk or computer or whatever. Then straighten up your back and neck, place your feet flat on the floor and rest your arms either on armrests or lay your hands in your lap (not clenched). Then close your eyes and take a deep breath (again real deep and slow don’t rush it) and focus on a favorite memory or location or some contrived peaceful scene. I remember a mountain meadow with a creek running through it from my youth. I concentrate on the meadow and creek until I imagine I can hear the water gurgling, I will even try to think about the smell of the flowers and grasses around the creek. Sometimes I will imagine a small heard of Elk grazing on the sweet grasses, slowly walking through the meadow. Do this while breathing slowly in and out deep breaths. We have had an automatic BP cuff at home for a couple of years and I have played with it numerous times to work on relaxing.

Pick your own idea of a restful scene, something you can relate to. You should notice a definite change and be more relaxed. It only takes a couple minutes and will help you with your ability to mentally focus on your tasks at hand as well. Stress can kill, but if you can learn how to relax, when time permits even if only for a couple minutes, will help you focus better and be more productive.  Learn how to do this before you get stressed.

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