Take a deep breath, and just enjoy your life.

Relaxation isn’t only about peace of mind or enjoying a hobby. Relaxation is a process that decreases the effects of stress on your mind and body. This technique can help you cope with everyday stress and stress related to various health problems, such as heart disease and pain.

Whether your stress is spiralling out of control or you’ve already got it tamed, you can benefit from learning relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques are often free or low cost, pose little risk and can be done nearly anywhere.

Explore these simple relaxation techniques and get started on de-stressing your life and improving your health. Relaxation techniques can reduce stress symptoms and help you enjoy a better quality of life, especially if you have an illness.

The benefits of relaxation techniques

  • Slowing heart rate
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Slowing your breathing rate
  • Improving digestion
  • Maintaining normal blood sugar levels
  • Reducing the activity of stress hormones
  • Increasing blood flow to major muscles
  • Reducing muscle tension and chronic pain
  • Improving concentration and mood
  • Improving sleep quality
  • Lowering fatigue
  • Reducing anger and frustration
  • Boosting confidence to handle problems

To get the most benefit, use relaxation techniques along with other positive coping methods, such as thinking positively, finding humour, problem-solving, managing time, exercising, getting enough sleep, and reaching out to supportive family and friends.

Types of relaxation techniques

Health professionals such as complementary health practitioners, doctors and psychotherapists can teach various relaxation techniques. But if you prefer, you can also learn some relaxation techniques on your own.

In general, relaxation techniques involve refocusing your attention on something calming and increasing awareness of your body. It doesn’t matter which relaxation technique you choose. What matters is that you try to practice relaxation regularly to reap its benefits.

As you learn relaxation techniques, you can become more aware of muscle tension and other physical sensations of stress. Once you know what the stress response feels like, you can make a conscious effort to practice a relaxation technique the moment you start to feel stress symptoms. This can prevent stress from spiralling out of control.

Remember that relaxation techniques are skills. As with any skill, your ability to relax improves with practice. Be patient with yourself. Don’t let your effort to practise relaxation techniques become yet another stressor.

If one relaxation technique doesn’t work for you, try another technique. If none of your efforts at stress reduction seems to work, talk to your doctor about other options.

Also, bear in mind that some people, especially those with serious psychological issues and a history of abuse, may experience feelings of emotional discomfort during some relaxation techniques. Although this is rare, if you experience emotional discomfort during relaxation techniques, stop what you’re doing and consider talking to your doctor or mental health provider.

Following are six relaxation techniques that can help you evoke the relaxation response and reduce stress.

  1. Breath focus

    In this simple, powerful technique, you take long, slow, deep breaths (also known as abdominal or belly breathing). As you breathe, you gently disengage your mind from distracting thoughts and sensations. Breath focus can be especially helpful for people with eating disorders to help them focus on their bodies in a more positive way. However, this technique may not be appropriate for those with health problems that make breathing difficult, such as respiratory ailments or heart failure.

  2. Body scan

    This technique blends breath focus with progressive muscle relaxation. After a few minutes of deep breathing, you focus on one part of the body or group of muscles at a time and mentally releasing any physical tension you feel there. A body scan can help boost your awareness of the mind-body connection. If you have had a recent surgery that affects your body image or other difficulties with body image, this technique may be less helpful for you.

  3. Guided imagery

    For this technique, you conjure up soothing scenes, places, or experiences in your mind to help you relax and focus. You can find free apps and online recordings of calming scenes—just make sure to choose imagery you find soothing and that has personal significance. Guided imagery may help you reinforce a positive vision of yourself, but it can be difficult for those who have intrusive thoughts or find it hard to conjure up mental images.

  4. Mindfulness meditation

    This practise involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing, and bringing your mind’s attention to the present moment without drifting into concerns about the past or the future. This form of meditation has enjoyed increasing popularity in recent years. Research suggests it may be helpful for people with anxiety, depression, and pain.

  5. Yoga, tai chi, and qigong

    These three ancient arts combine rhythmic breathing with a series of postures or flowing movements. The physical aspects of these practices offer a mental focus that can help distract you from racing thoughts. They can also enhance your flexibility and balance. But if you are not normally active, have health problems, or a painful or disabling condition, these relaxation techniques might be too challenging. Check with your doctor before starting them.

  6. Repetitive prayer

    For this technique, you silently repeat a short prayer or phrase from a prayer while practicing breath focus. This method may be especially appealing if religion or spirituality is meaningful to you.

Rather than choosing just one technique, experts recommend sampling several to see which one works best for you. Try to practice for at least 20 minutes a day, although even just a few minutes can help. But the longer and the more often you practice these relaxation techniques, the greater the benefits and the more you can reduce stress.

Being in a natural setting also reduces muscle tension.

If you can’t get to some real live greenery, additional research shows that sounds from nature — waves crashing on the beach, leaves rustling in the breeze — have a restorative effect on our minds by physically altering the connections in our brains, reducing our fight-or-flight instinct.

Getting outdoors allows us to connect to the physical beauty of our world — the oceans, flowers, trees, wildlife, and the earth — and tune into our senses, which can help alleviate negative emotions. Observing a sunset or sunrise allows us to take the focus of our own challenges.

Massage and other soothing activities      

Lying on a padded massage table, you can feel your stress melt away even before your therapist enters the room. The dim lights, calming aromatherapy scent, and soothing music all encourage relaxation.

Besides just feeling amazing, massage is accepted as part of complementary and integrative medicine, which means that it’s often recommended along with standard treatment for a range of health conditions, including anxiety and insomnia related to stress. Massage affects our body’s production and regulation of neurohormones, which influence our behaviour and feelings of wellbeing. A therapist’s touch tends to elevate our body’s level of dopamine, which affects inspiration, joy and enthusiasm.

Enjoy yourself!

Going to the movies, gardening, playing a board game, or visiting a museum isn’t research-backed relaxation strategies, but if they bring you pleasure, that’s a good reason to do them! It’s no surprise to expect that you’ll feel more relaxed when you make time to pursue the activities you enjoy. At the very least, they’ll take your mind off whatever is making you anxious.

Our worried minds often distract us from scheduling things we enjoy in our day. But doing what we enjoy and absorbing invariably boosts our mood and encourages us to be present. It makes us feel better about ourselves, and our life. This is, really, the whole reason for getting better at relaxing.

One way to break up any kind of tension is good deep breathing!

 

Trishna Patnaik

AUTHOR

Trishna Patnaik, a BSc (in Life Sciences) and MBA (in Marketing) by qualification but an artist by choice. A self-taught artist based in Mumbai, Trishna has been practising art for over 14 years. After she had a professional stint in various reputed corporates, she realised that she wanted to do something more meaningful. She found her true calling in her passion that is painting. Trishna is now a full-time professional painter pursuing her passion to create and explore to the fullest. She says, “It’s a road less travelled but a journey that I look forward to every day.” Trishna also conducts painting workshops across Mumbai and other metropolitan cities of India.

Trishna is an art therapist and healer. She works with clients on a one on one basis in Mumbai.

Trishna fancies the art of creative writing and is dappling her hands in that too, to soak in the experience and have an engagement with readers, wanderers and thinkers.

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