Stress is an unavoidable part of life, and it’s extremely important to control your stress because it can cause potentially serious physical and mental health problems.
Relaxation techniques are a great way to manage stress.
However, when faced with demanding day-to-day responsibilities and tasks, relaxation techniques often take a back seat. This is because many people don’t realize the powerful benefits that come from regular use of these techniques.
Relaxation techniques play a key role in reducing stress symptoms by slowing down the heart and breathing rates, reducing blood pressure, increasing blood flow to major muscles, reducing activity of stress hormones, easing muscle tension, lifting your mood, improving concentration, alleviating fatigue, and reducing anger and frustration.
Basically, relaxation techniques aid in refocusing your attention on something calming and increasing awareness of your body. This helps push thoughts about stress out of your mind.
Apart from being de-stressing, these techniques also improve your health.
When using relaxation techniques to reduce stress, you must also practice other positive coping methods, including positive thinking, managing your time well, exercising, getting enough sleep, eating the right foods and getting help from family and friends.
Here are 10 easy relaxation techniques to reduce stress.
1. Guided Visualization
Visualization and imagery techniques, also referred to as guided imagery, offer an effective avenue for stress reduction. These techniques involve the systematic practice of creating a detailed mental image in your mind of an attractive, peaceful setting or environment.
This serves as an element of distraction to redirect your attention away from what is causing the stress to an alternative focus.
Visualization even impacts many cognitive processes in the brain, including motor control, attention, perception, planning and memory. It also enhances motivation and increases self-confidence, which are important for reducing stress.
A 2012 study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice reports that guided visualization helps reduce levels of perceived stress and lower the levels of dyadic distress, as well as lowering psychological and physical complaints.
Guided imagery has also been shown to help manage headaches, reduce the frequency of migraines, ease fear and anxiety before surgery, and even reduce the side effects of cancer treatment, according to a 2008 report by Mayo Clinic Health Letter.
Guided visualization can be done in many ways. Here is one of the simplest ways to do it:
- Sit comfortably in a calm space and close your eyes.
- Take a few slow, deep breaths to calm your mind and body.
- Imagine yourself in a beautiful location, one you would like to visit.
- Focus on the different sensory attributes present in the imaginary location to make it more vivid in your mind.
- Continue doing it until you feel relaxed.
- Slowly return your mind to the present world.
- Open your eyes and rejoin your world.
2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is another effective stress reliever. It involves two main steps: the first is intentionally tensing your muscles and the second is intentionally releasing that tension.
A 2014 study published in the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research reports that performing progressive muscle relaxation is effective in reducing test anxiety among nursing students.
Another 2015 study published in the IOSR Journal of Nursing and Health found that use of progressive muscular relaxation as a treatment helped reduce pain and stress while improving overall well-being among patients suffering from chronic low back pain.
Most progressive muscle relaxation practitioners start at the feet and work their way up to the face.
- Sit in a comfortable position.
- Take a few minutes to relax by practicing deep breathing.
- Once relaxed, shift your attention to your right foot.
- Take a few seconds to focus on the way it feels.
- Slowly tense the muscles in your right foot, squeezing as tightly as you can.
- Hold for a count of 10, then relax your right foot.
- Stay in this relaxed position for 30 seconds, breathing deeply and slowly.
- Then, shift your attention to your left foot. Follow the same sequence of muscle tension and release.
- Continue the sequence as you move slowly up through your body to the muscles in the legs, buttocks, abdomen, arms, back, neck and face.
Yoga is a great way to reduce stress and manage anxiety as it radiates peace and tranquility throughout the mind and body. It involves a series of both moving and stationary poses to help calm your mind and relax your body.
The Corpse Pose or Savasana, in particular, is a simple yet effective yoga pose for reducing stress from all your muscles and providing complete relaxation. It also improves sleep, relieves headache, and alleviates mild depression.
According to 2011 study published in the International Journal of Yoga, consistent yoga practice helps induce a balanced mental state and increase the quality of life.
Yoga is also good for improving your overall health and fitness. In fact, it helps lower the risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and high blood pressure.
- Lie down on your back comfortably, with legs slightly apart.
- Place your hands by your sides, keeping the palms facing upwards.
- Breathe slowly and deeply from your abdominal area (diaphragm, to be specific).
- Close your eyes and relax the muscles of your body.
- Maintain this position for 5 to 15 minutes.
You can also try other yoga poses such as Child’s Pose (Balasana), Downward Facing Dog Pose (Ardho Mukha Svanasana), Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana), and Legs Up The Wall Pose (Viparita Karani) to induce relaxation.
4. Tai Chi
Tai chi, a self-paced series of slow, flowing body movements, is also very effective for relieving stress.
The series of movements force you to concentrate, relax and consciously think about circulating vital energy throughout the body. This helps calm the mind and reduce stress.
While practicing tai chi, the focus is primarily on breathing and attention to the present moment. Tai chi is a low-impact exercise, making it also especially suitable for older adults who otherwise may not exercise.
A 2013 study published in Psychiatric Clinics of North America analyzed several studies and concluded that tai chi may be effective in reducing depressive symptoms, stress, anxiety and mood disturbances.
Tai chi is best learned in a class or from a private instructor who is an expert in this form.
5. Relaxing Music
Listening to music has a tremendously relaxing effect on the mind and body. Slow and soothing music especially plays a key role in decreasing stress hormone levels in the body.
Also, music can absorb your attention, thus acting as a distraction to help you explore your emotions. In addition, certain music is appropriate for meditation as it initiates the relaxation response.
A 2003 study by the New York Academy of Sciences reports that music is a powerful tool in evoking a more positive and happier disposition in many people. Listening to music after a stressor can act to decrease the post-stress response of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
Another 2013 study published in PLOS ONE indicates that music has a positive impact on the psychobiological stress system. In fact, listening to music prior to a standardized stressor can lead to a lesser degree of the endocrine and psychological stress response.
A recent 2016 study from Imperial College London reports that attending a cultural event can have an impact on endocrine activity and down-regulate stress. This conclusion was made in line with 22 previous studies showing that listening to music in the controlled setting of either a laboratory or a hospital can reduce cortisol levels.
When your stress levels are high, grab a set of headphones and enter the world of music.
6. Deep Breathing
Whenever you are under stress, simply take a few deep breaths. It will provide immediate stress relief. In fact, deep breathing is a simple yet powerful relaxation technique.
Deep breathing counters the effects of stress by slowing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure. It even oxygenates your blood, helps center your body and clears your mind. The more oxygen your body gets while practicing deep breathing, the less tense, short of breath and anxious you feel.
A 2007 study published in Stress and Coherence concludes that by practicing deep breathing, one can quickly and noticeably reduce stress.
Another 2010 study published in the Spanish journal Revista de enfermería reports that controlled breathing therapy helps reduce the cortisol level in the body. Deep breathing for even a few minutes diminished the cortisol.
Plus, deep breathing works as meditation and gives you a break from whatever is bothering you, as your attention gets diverted to your breathing process.
- Sit up straight and close your eyes.
- Put a hand on your belly.
- Slowly inhale through your nose and feel the breath start to fill your abdomen.
- Count to 5, then reverse the process as you exhale slowly through your mouth.
- Repeat these steps for 5 to 10 minutes.
If it is difficult to breath from your abdomen while sitting up, try lying on the floor.
7. Mindfulness Meditation
During stress and anxiety, you can also practice meditation, an age-old relaxation technique to control stress and reduce the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
Meditation, especially mindfulness meditation, helps improve multiple negative dimensions of psychological stress.
Mindfulness meditation means sitting comfortably and trying to focus on your breathing in a way that your mind’s attention comes to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future.
A 2013 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry suggests that mindfulness meditation has a beneficial effect on anxiety symptoms in generalized anxiety disorder, and may also improve stress reactivity and coping as measured in a laboratory stress challenge.
Another study published in the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand in the same year reports that mindfulness meditation lowers the cortisol levels in the blood, suggesting that it can lower stress and may decrease the risk of diseases that arise from stress, such as psychiatric disorders, peptic ulcers and migraines.
In a 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers suggest that mindfulness meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression and pain.
Laughter is a great medicine and a highly effective relaxation technique that can help reduce stress within minutes.
A good sense of humor can lighten your load mentally and induce physical changes in your body. In fact, it enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain. Endorphins improve mood and decrease levels of the stress-causing hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
It also cools down your stress response and even aids in reducing the physical symptoms of stress.
A 1989 study published in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences reports that even a short session of mirthful laughter can help reduce serum levels of cortisol, dopac, epinephrine and growth hormone.
Later, a 2008 study by the American Physiological Society reported that simply anticipating a mirthful laughter experience boosted health-protecting hormones and also reduced potentially detrimental stress hormones.
The next time you are under stress, forget everything and start watching a funny movie or video. You can even read the comics, or chat with someone who makes you smile.
There is nothing wrong with giving your body a relaxing massage to overcome stress. In fact, massage is a great relaxing technique to keep stress at bay.
Massage that involves pressing, rubbing and manipulating your skin, muscles, tendons and ligaments is considered a valuable part of complementary and alternative medicine treatment for reducing stress, pain and muscle tension.
In addition, massage promotes sleep, which is difficult to get when trying to fight stress.
A 2005 study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience reports that massage has a positive effect on decreasing cortisol levels and increasing serotonin and dopamine levels in the body. Serotonin and dopamine are neurotransmitters that promote feelings of happiness.
Another study published in Autonomic Neuroscience: Basic & Clinical in 2010 showed that just five minutes of touch massage can help reduce your body’s stress response.
Try taking a few minutes to massage yourself at your desk between tasks. A gentle foot massage after a hectic day can help you unwind.
You can also see a professional massage therapist.
10. Walking Breaks
When you’re feeling stressed, take breaks to simply go for a 10-minute walk. Walking boosts endorphins, which can reduce stress hormones and alleviate mild depression.
Walking is a type of rhythmic exercise that engages both your arms and legs. It is highly effective at relieving stress when performed mindfully. This means you need to be fully engaged in the present moment, focusing your mind on how your body feels. Instead of focusing on your thoughts, divert your attention to the sensations in your limbs and how your breathing complements your movements.
While walking, make sure you are doing some deep breathing, too. If possible, try to walk amid nature like at a nearby park. Nature has a calming effect on the mind and body. This also provides an added benefit of getting some vitamin D from the sun.
At the end of your walk, you can even call one of your friends or family members. A reassuring voice, even for a minute, can put everything in perspective.