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Learning to increase relaxation levels

It doesn't take much to get stressed out. Your alarm doesn't go off. You hit traffic on the way to work. Your favorite lunch spot is out of your sandwich. The kids won't stop whining. Add about a dozen other triggers, and you've probably reached the stress level of your typical day.

But de-stressing can happen just as easily. To discover how, we reached out to experts who agreed to share their proven strategies for self-soothing. The best part: None of them will take more than 10 minutes out of your busy day.

Put your nose to work

There are a number of scents that are proven to reduce stress, and the top two are those of green apple and cucumber, said Dr. Alan Hirsch, neurological director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation.

Hirsch did a study on smell and stress, and found that sniffing either of those scents reduces anxiety by about 18 percent.

"It's not as much as taking a Valium, but it's significant," Hirsch said.

Though researchers aren't sure why those scents are so calming, Hirsch said it could be due to their nostalgic feeling of safety: cooking at home with fresh, pure ingredients.

Stash an apple in your desk drawer at work, or use an apple or cucumber-scented shampoo or lotion in the morning to get your day off to a stress-free start.

Breathe

Sure, you're breathing all day long. But if you take just 10 minutes to really concentrate on your breathing, you can actually quell anxiety and calm your body — regardless of the mayhem that may be going on around you, said Dr. Herbert Benson, director of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine and author of "Relaxation Revolution: The Science and Genetics of Mind Body Healing" (Scribner, $26).

Find a quiet place in your home or office, and close your eyes, Benson said. Take a few minutes to relax each muscle from your eyelids to your toes. Gently roll your head and your neck, and focus on your breathing. On each slow, steady breath, repeat a word in your head such as "calm" or "gentle."

"Don't focus on anything, even the length of your breath," Benson said. "Just breathe naturally and slowly."

Make sure you don't set an alarm to jar you back to the real world. When you feel centered and calm, let your regular thoughts enter your mind, open your eyes and slowly return to your daily schedule.

Loosen your body

When you're stressed, your body will tense, and it'll be hard to let it all go. But there are simple yoga techniques that you can even do in your office — without anyone noticing that you're in desperate need of a break, said Sarah Trelease, a Portland, Ore., yoga teacher.

Because your joints tend to stiffen at the first sign of stress, roll your wrists, fingers, ankles and toes.

"Just articulating these joints can go a long, inconspicuous way toward stress relief," Trelease said.

Your neck is the one of the most common area to hold in stress, but also the most neglected. So next, try a neck roll. Sit up straight, and let your head fall gently toward your right ear. Let the weight of your head and your exhales gently open the left side of your neck.

If this feels good, then on an inhale, shrug your left shoulder up toward your left ear to allow your head to fall a little farther toward the right. Then, on an exhale, allow your left shoulder to drop again.

Repeat if desired, and then from the lowered position, slowly draw your chin toward your right armpit. Be sure to keep a straight posture through your spine. Continue rolling your head toward the midline, and on an inhale, lift back to center. Repeat to the left side.

Have a drink

As a nutritionist to stars including Drew Barrymore and Owen Wilson, Kimberly Snyder has seen her share of stressed-out celebs. Here she shares her stress-busting smoothie recipe. Whip up a big batch in the morning, and keep it in the fridge for emergencies.

"The recipe contains bananas, which are naturally rich in B vitamins — important nutrients to keep stress hormones and blood pressure levels under control when we are stressed out," Snyder said. "This amazing drink also includes spinach, which is a leafy green that contains magnesium, which also helps our body's response to stress. There is a great deal of chlorophyll present in this recipe with a variety of leafy greens, which have a balancing affect on the body and help keep us resilient to stressful environments."

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups of water

1 head of romaine lettuce, chopped

1/2 head of large bunch or 3/4 of small bunch of spinach

3-4 stalks of celery

1 apple, cored and chopped

1 pear, cored and chopped

1 banana

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Directions: Add the water and chopped head of romaine and spinach to the blender. Starting on a low speed, mix until smooth. Gradually moving to higher speeds, add the celery, apple and pear. Add cilantro and parsley if you choose. Add the banana and lemon juice last.

sunday@tribune.com

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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