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How to Relax – For Real

You've heard it a million times: When you're stressed out, you should breathe deeply, or count to ten, or imagine fluffy pink bunnies jumping over rainbows, or crack open a bottle of wine. Wait! Scratch that last one. This article isn't about self-medicating your stress away, but it's also not about the "top five best stress busters." It's about relaxing, for real, and for good. It's about training your mind and body to be calm by nature, and that takes some serious work. It takes daily practice. But guess what? It's simpler than you think, and it's fully worth it.


Constant stress — even low-level, underlying stress — comes with a host of problems, from headaches to high blood pressure and from diabetes to depression. It destroys your sleep and your sex life, and it probably makes you a bear to live with. So put down that cigarette, stop chewing your nails, save the wine for celebrations, and beat your stress from within with this one-step, long-term stress relief plan.


Step One: Meditate

Don't roll your eyes! A fast-growing body of research is revealing that meditation is somewhat of a metasuperhero when it comes to health benefits, which include reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol, more efficient processing of emotions and pain, improved immunity, reduced inflammation, better memory and processing, lower anxiety and depression, and a higher level of satisfaction with life in general.


Now, everyone knows what meditation is, but too many people think that it's just too complicated to bother with. Sit like this, breathe like that, do this with your hands, do that with your voice. Whatever you do, don't Google "how to meditate," because while the resources are endless, so are the opinions on the right way to do it.


Folks, there is no right way to do it. And there's no wrong way to do it. Meditation is simply putting your focus on being in the moment, right where you are, with no intrusive thoughts of the past or the future clouding your path to clarity. Meditation is a state of quiet awareness that's not distracted by the jibberjabber in your head going, grocery store, milk, bananas, what if my kid fails math? I need to mow the lawn, pork chops!


Do This:

Find a place that doesn't make you want to rip out your hair. Sit comfortably, and close your eyes. Or don't. Breathe slowly and deeply. Pay attention to the air filling up your lungs, imbuing you with life force. Pay attention to it leaving, and imagine you're exhaling your extraneous thoughts and expelling negative emotions like guilt and stress, leaving your mind free and clear.


When any kind of conscious thought comes into your head that doesn't have to do this exact moment in time, acknowledge it, then immediately imagine that the thought is a leaf floating past you, down a stream. Watch it float away and disappear, and then gently go back to focusing on your breathing. Don't concentrate on clearing your head of thoughts. That'll just make it worse. You will think. It's okay! Just acknowledge the thought, turn it into a leaf, let it disappear, and return to the immediate now, to the air that's moving in and out of your body, bringing in life and expelling the jibberjabber.


And that's it. Do this every day for ten or fifteen minutes to start, and the rest will follow. Soon, the leaves will become few and far between, and you'll become more self-aware more of the time. You will naturally begin to connect with a deeper, quieter part of your mind, both in and out of the meditative state, and your naturally high-strung, stressed-out self will find itself a little more — maybe a lot more — chill.