6 Stress-Management Tips For A Longer Life

10/26/2010 08:26 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Autumn is definitely here, and our schedules seem busier than ever. Here is one high-priority item to add to your full plate: Take at least 10 minutes a day to relax--and you will live a longer and happier life. It is hardly groundbreaking news that stress is one of the top killers in our modern world, and yet we still refuse to take a time-out. Taking a break is like hitting your reset button; this brief appointment with yourself will increase your productivity, improve your mood and most importantly, decrease the chronic stress that over time paves the way for heart disease, depression, insomnia, cancer and other life-shortening health conditions.

Here are some restorative options for your daily relaxation and renewal:

Quiet Time Is Not Just For Toddlers
Somewhere along the line, we got the idea that taking time for ourselves was selfish or even a waste of time. While we schedule time for our children to rest, we think we are exempt. Yet, rest and relaxation are essential to restore our physical energy and to maintain emotional balance. Take 10 minutes of quiet time in your day. Read an inspiring book. Take a long, slow stroll in nature or your neighborhood. Commune silently with a furry friend, meditate, journal, or whatever makes you feel peaceful within. I'm giving you permission to relax.

Retreat From Technology
This tip may seem a little radical to some: take a one-day retreat from technology. Information overload is particularly harmful at midlife because you have less tolerance for stress, which can contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease. So, give yourself a break. Take one day out of the week to minimize "screen" time. Don't watch TV, resist the lure of email and skip the news. It will be there tomorrow and, after a day of rest, you'll be refreshed and ready to deal with it.

Unblock Tension With Exercise
The constant pressures of your responsibilities can lead to chronically elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is a direct cause of muscle and joint pain. Clenched jaw? Chronic back and neck pain? These can all be manifestations of stress in your body. Release physical tension and clear these emotional blockages with massage therapy, cardio exercise, yoga, tai chi or qi gong.

Breathe For Stress Release
For increased stress reduction, practice five minutes of deep breathing during a break. Deliberately slow down your breath by counting to six for each inhalation and exhalation. When you exhale, blow out and let go of worries and negativity. After five minutes, you should immediately experience deeper state of relaxation and a clearer head.

Stay Relaxed With Schisandra
Supplement your attempts to be stress-free with healing herbs. Schisandra, sometimes spelled "schizandra," is a berry that has been used for thousands of years in China as an energy tonic to revitalize the senses, soothe the nerves and take the edge off anxiety. Schisandra contains several vitamins and flavonoids that possess antioxidant and immune-boosting properties, which will also come in handy with the upcoming cold season. Grown in Asia, it is available as a supplement from health food stores and online. Also, look for schisandra berries, which can be infused into a tart and tasty tea. Sometimes you can find schisandra in combination with other herbs. Schisandra should not be used by pregnant women.

A Powerful Stress Release Relaxation
This more structured relaxation releases tension in your whole body--front, sides and back. If you practice this exercise daily for 10 minutes, you may begin to notice that you have a higher capacity to cope with stress, a less worried mind and an increased energy level.

Lie down on your back. Try to slow your respiration, breathing from deep in your abdomen.

FRONT: Starting at the top of your head, imagine your scalp muscles relaxing while you say the word "calm" to yourself with every exhalation. Repeat this with each body part as you move down through your face, throat, chest, stomach, lower abdomen, thighs, knees, legs, ankles and feet. Visualize all the tension leaving your body through your toes as black smoke.

SIDES: Begin at your temples on either side of your forehead, and work your way down the sides of your upper extremities. Again, imagine your muscles relaxing while you say the word "calm" inwardly with each exhalation. Repeat with each body part as you move down through your jaws, the sides of your neck, shoulders, upper arms, elbows, forearms, wrists and hands. Visualize all the tension leaving your body through your fingertips as black smoke.

BACK: Starting at the back of your head, repeat the breathing-visualization-word routine as you move down from the back of your neck to your upper back, middle back, lower back, back of thighs, calves and heels. Then focus on the soles of your feet for one minute.

Try to work up to two 15-minute sessions per day. If you feel stressed at the thought of remembering all of this, you can get a copy of my instructional Stress Release CD that will walk you through a relaxation.

I hope you find permission to relax. May you live long, live strong, and live happy!

You can find more simple tips about staying healthy and lowering stress in Secrets of Longevity: Hundreds of Ways to Live to Be 100, now available on Kindle.