Exercise certainly helps, but sometimes it may not be enough to relieve stress and, thereby, alleviate allergies. Fortunately, there are other alternative options:
Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Concentrate on each breath. That's meditation in a nutshell. Sounds simple, right? Don't be fooled. Your mind doesn't want to be still and concentrate on the boring breath. No, there is too much to think about! The mind overflows with thoughts and questions: What's for dinner? I feel lousy. What did Joan mean by that remark? Should I pack my blue or gray suit for the trip? Those new stocks didn't do well on the market today. How do I control Mark's nail-biting?
Combine this cascade of thoughts with distractions -- obnoxious television jingles, screaming kids, loud traffic -- and you can see how you become stressed out. That's where minding your breath comes in handy. Meditation requires you to focus on each and every breath, and if you do it right you will learn to crowd out extraneous thoughts.
After several months of practice, you'll notice you've been transformed into a calmer person, one who is not quickly knocked off balance by annoyances and distractions, whether it's an unpleasant thought, a screaming child, or even a sneezing fit. Moreover, you'll find that breathing practice helps your muscles relax and aches and pains fade away, leaving you in a better mood. Concentrating on and controlling your breathing is a natural tranquilizer.
Meditation can be done anytime and anywhere, alone or with a group. Some people find they become more focused when meditating in a group, while others prefer to walkor sit alone and meditate.
Other Forms of Mental Relaxation
The ancient arts of yoga and t'ai chi combine movement, stretching, deep breathing, and concentration to tone your body and relax your mind. Through practice and patience, both these movement arts help accentuate the positives (strengthen and relax muscles and focus the mind) and eliminate the negatives (tension, anxiety, body aches). Yoga and t'ai chi are easy to learn and easy to incorporate into a daily exercise routine.
If meditation or movement isn't your kind of mental relaxation, simply try positive self-talk or good old laughter. Research has shown that the latter relaxes tense muscles, reduces blood pressure, exercises muscles of the face and diaphragm, and causes the body to release pain-fighting hormones.
Massage therapy is based on our instinctive need for touch. Sometimes all it takes to relieve tension is a nice back rub. Allergy sufferers, especially those with sore sinuses, might find facial and neck massages especially appealing.
The Swedish style of massage, by far the most popular, is a treat for the entire body. The massage therapist concentrates on easing tension by gently massaging legs, arms, back, neck, and upper chest muscles with oil (to prevent friction). Another popular form of massage is the Japanese-style Shiatsu. The therapist focuses on pressure points on the body.
Most massages last 60 minutes, a time many find too short. Be sure to drink some water after a massage.
When looking for a massage therapist, allergy sufferers need to be alert to potential problems, especially if the therapist's office is in their home. Check the environment to be sure it's comfortable, clean, and free of irritants. Does the therapist have pets or a plethora of plants? Does the therapist burn incense or use scented oils? These may be irritating to sinuses.
The Chinese have been using acupuncture, the introduction of hair-thin needles into specific points (called acupoints) on the body, for more than 2,500 years, but the West has been slow to catch on. Only recently have acupuncture and acupuncture clinics entered the Western health care scene. Influential organizations are taking note, too. The World Health Organization (WHO) listed acute sinusitis and acute rhinitis as two diseases that lend themselves to acupuncture treatment. (This was based on clinical experience, not controlled studies.) Western medical studies also put in a plug for acupuncture, indicating that it helps stimulate the release of the body's natural painkillers, endorphins, which contributes to a sense of well-being.
Before choosing an acupuncturist, get a recommendation from a physician or through the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture's Web site (www.medicalacupuncture.org) or their patient referral service (800-521-2262). The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, which promotes nationally recognized standards in acupuncture, also has an Internet referral service: www.nccaom.org.
More Alternative Therapies
Acupuncture isn't the only alternative therapy for stress reduction. Therapies run the gamut from aromatherapy (using essential oils from plants and herbs) to hydrotherapy (using mineral water). Alternative therapies are not backed by scientific research, and they shouldn't be viewed as a replacement for conventional medicine.
If you're considering alternative therapies, ask your doctor about incorporating them into your daily health care routine. And do some research first so you understand the pros and cons. Some therapies actually may be unhealthy for allergy sufferers. For instance, some herbal therapists use herbs that aren't regulated by the FDA and harbor molds, dust, bacteria, pollens, and other contaminants. Equally important is choosing a skilled therapist who belongs to a bona fide organization and has a good reputation in the community. Beware therapists (and therapies) promising a "miracle cure" for stress relief and allergies or who discourage you from taking your medications.
Another natural allergy treatment is to select a healthy diet. The final section will look at foods you can eat to cut back on your allergy symptoms.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.