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Some of our to-do lists even include the item 'relax.'  Scheduling time to relax is important, but often times it's the one item that we don't get to on our list.    

Days turn into weeks and soon we're telling ourselves, "I'll relax during my vacation."  And, that's what vacations are:  we vacate our normal routines and responsibilities to rejuvenate and recharge our batteries.  

Even otters take vacations!  During a field trip at the Portland Zoo last year, our guide told us that several times a year otters will wrap themselves in sea grass or leaves and float off away from their normal habitat and return a few days later.  Those playful little creatures are also apparently quite wise.

Daily vacations and quiet times are just as important as annual ones.  We don't need to wait until our yearly vacation or until we have a meltdown from burnout to signal that we haven't been paying enough attention to the cues from our system telling us we need to chill.  

Even a few minutes of relaxation can revive us and give us that surge of energy to get us through the rest of the day calmly and clearly.  

Yes, we can turn to caffeine, sugar, salt or any other stimulant and we know what those effects will do:  create dis-ease in the body and nagging thoughts in our mind which only creates more stress in our lives.  

Medical research confirms that most, if not all, dis-ease is stress related at its roots.   Good stress management skills don't come in a bottle.

Here are a few simple, easy, and quick ways to relax when you don't have time for it.

Breathing:   getting more oxygen into the body is the best way to recharge.   Breathe from the diaphragm (the disk shaped muscle on top of your stomach); inflate the diaphragm on the inhale as if you were blowing up a balloon, and deflate as you exhale.  Inhale through the nose to use the filters available and exhale either through the nose or mouth.    

For a quick relaxation, take several long, slow, deep breaths.  Emphasize and exaggerate the exhale when stress levels get high.

Exercise:  instead of grabbing an afternoon sugar snack, soda or coffee, do 20 jumping jacks, run in place for several minutes, or take a five minute walk.  

Do a few yoga, pilates or tai chi stretches. Get your heart pumping and oxygen flowing and you'll feel calmer in a matter of minutes.  

Even several minutes in a rocking chair can be enough to shift your energy and mood.

It doesn’t matter what you do, it only matters that you move!

Power nap:   twenty minutes of this nap is the equivalent of a three hour nap – really.  

Find a quiet place to lie comfortably on your back.  Elevate your feet with a pillow or any comfortable object so that your legs are above your heart (at least six inches up).  Arms at your sides, not across your body or behind your neck.  Clear your mind; clear it.  Mentally set everything aside – check out some meditation tips for help with this step...it can be a tricky one.  Don't harbor any thoughts that attempt to enter your mind.  Stay this way for twenty minutes and you'll feel as refreshed as if you'd napped for a couple of hours.

Elevate your feet:  the classical picture of a guy at his desk talking on the phone with his feet propped up on the desk is a bonafide relaxation technique.  

Try it for five minutes – without the phone call – for a quick relaxation break.  Read an article you've been wanting to look at, the Bible, or a book you've been into.

Visualization:  professional athletes and public speakers know the power of this technique.  

The "happy place" visualization really has a positive effect on our brain.  

Imagine a serene, idyllic, happy, people-less (this isn't intended to be cold, it's just that as soon as we invite people into our mind other thoughts, feelings and responses tend to arise so it's better to leave your loved ones out of this tip) place and go there for several minutes.   Come back smiling.

Another version of this one is to visualize yourself operating and behaving in a relaxed, calm and centered manner. See yourself in your mind's eye acting relaxed.

Affirmations:  Speaking truth affirming phrases can change your energy and help you re-align your thinking which is often the cause of stress – our own thoughts.  

Phrases as simple as, "I am well," "I am relaxed," "I am centered and calm," or "soothing energy now fills my being," will help you relax.  

The body has to respond to our thoughts which is often the problem when our thoughts and words are laden with negativity.  

Fake it 'til you make it; denying the power of the negative; reinforcing the power of the positive, are all beneficial strategies when it comes to relaxation techniques.

Motivation:  sometimes we just need a pep talk.  Call a friend, a supportive partner or be your own coach.  

Remind yourself that the tasks in front of you are part of your own  little garden of life to tend;  whatever you're doing,  remember that you're doing it for your family, God, your own lifestyle, etc.  

Massage:  this is always a perfect mini-vacation.  One, full, beautiful, quiet, and relaxing hour to unwind, rejuvenate and restore your whole self can make all the difference in our busy world.    

The benefits of massage are numerous: immune system, nervous system, circulation, and mental and emotional well being.

Most massage therapists work by appointment, but sometimes they have a cancellation or some extra time so go ahead and call to see if there's an opening.  

Full-body is always preferable, but even a partial massage for half an hour can be just what you need.  And, it never hurts to have a back-up if you're regular therapist is unavailable.  Therapists are like restaurants – variety adds spice!

Self massage:  rub your head for a few minutes as though you were shampooing; get a couple of tennis balls and a sock and put the balls in the sock, tie the sock, then lie on it and roll it around your back to loosen some of those knots; take off your shoes and rub your feet; massage your hands and arms.

Foot massage or reflexology treatment:  many therapists offer foot massage or reflexology , both of which are extremely beneficial for relaxation.  

Some of my massage clients claim that an hour foot massage is as relaxing as a full-body massage at about half the cost.

Hair washing:  call your hairdresser or drop in at your local beauty college and request a shampoo only.  

Tell the hairdresser that if she gives you a ten to fifteen minute shampoo you'll make it worth her while.  The cost of a shampoo  can be as little as a few dollars and even if you add a nice tip, it's a low cost relaxation break.

Meditation:  try it, you'll get the hang of it.  Learning to clear your mind, channel your thoughts and calm your mind is paramount in relaxation.   Even five minutes is enough to experience a change in your state of mind.  Practice, practice, practice.  The more you do it, the better you get.  

Remember, bodies at peace make peace.

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