20 Minutes to a Lower Stress Level

One proven way to ease stress is what Harvard University cardiologist Herbert Benson, M.D., calls the relaxation response.

According to Benson’s studies, the method taps an innate mechanism that can be used to counteract the human fight-or-flight response to stress. His research shows that the relaxation response can lower blood pressure and ease muscle tension. Benson suggests setting aside 20 minutes and following these six simple steps:

1. Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Sit in a comfortable position, one that allows you to relax your body. Close your eyes.

2. Starting with your feet and progressing upward, relax your muscles. End with the muscles of your face. Take a moment to experience the feeling of being completely relaxed.

3. With your eyes still closed, breathe in and out through your nose, concentrating on each breath.

4. Then, as you exhale, begin to silently repeat a short phrase or single word, such as “peace” or “calmness” or “easy does it.” Choose a word that helps you focus your mind and banish distracting thoughts.

5. Continue repeating your soothing word or phrase and concentrating on breathing. The experts usually recommend doing this exercise for 10 to 15 minutes. Don’t set an alarm, though, or you’ll constantly be thinking about when it will go off. Have a watch or clock handy and open your eyes now and then to check the time. And don’t be discouraged from doing the relaxation routine if you don’t have a full 15 minutes. Even a few minutes will help.

6. Sit quietly for a few more minutes, first with your eyes closed and then with them open. Savor the way your body and mind feel.

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