We all know relaxation is good for our health, but do we know how to relax? If we are unable to slow down our physical responses to stress and anxiety, then we will not experience the benefits of relaxing activities. Here are some types of relaxation techniques that should be easy to fit into your daily life.
Breathing Focused Strategies
How often do you pay attention to your breath? We tend to hold our breath or breathe shallowly when we are stressed. We have all been instructed to “take a deep breath” before reacting to something stressful, so we know that it is a strategy to slow down our physical reaction. But did you know that if you practice it frequently, it can become a habit and reduce your overall stress long term?
*Not everyone finds taking a deep breath calming, and if you have asthma or breathing difficulties, it can actually increase anxiety. If it’s not for you, skip ahead to see if reducing muscle tension or using music or movement is better for you.
Slow Deep Breathing
Just be aware of your breath and slow it down. You can do this while counting if you want. I like to count to 5 on the inhale, 6 on the exhale, 7 on the next inhale, and so on. Until the breath is nice and slow. When you get to where you want to be you can stay on the same number, or go back down to the lower numbers.
Diaphragmatic breathing is breathing into your belly. You can put your hand on your stomach and feel it expand as you allow the air to go past your chest and all the way down to your diaphragm. Let it out slowly and repeat. Try to do this for 2 or 3 minutes. This is one of my favorite types of relaxation techniques since it can easily be done in any situation no matter where you are at.
Muscle Focused Relaxation
If focusing on your breathing isn’t for you, muscle focused strategies may be one of the better types of relaxation techniques for you to use. This allows you to focus on different muscles in your body and physically release the tension which sends signals to your brain that there is no threat, and it can calm down on its physical stress response.
*If you suffer from any chronic pain, you may want to skip the parts of these exercises that ask you to tense a certain muscle and just focus on awareness to avoid increasing your physical pain.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This type of relaxation technique was created by Edmund Jacobson and assumes that muscle relaxation blocks anxiety since muscle tension is a physical response to anxiety-provoking thoughts. It can be used to help you relax in any situation much like the breathing exercises above. However, the first few times it may be helpful to use an audio or video guide like this one created by headache specialists at Children’s Mercy Hospital together with Bazillion Pictures, Inc.
Basically, you will identify a group of muscles, tense them for 20-30 seconds, and then release the tension allowing them to relax. Try it with your fist and see how much more relaxed your hand feels afterward. The full process in the video will take you through this process on each muscle group in your body.
Make Your Own Muscle Relaxation Technique
Once you have tried this video or found another you like, you can adapt the practice however you like. I often hold tension in my neck and shoulders so sometimes I just bring my shoulders up to my ears and hold all the tension there before letting it go and continuing my work. I don’t always take time for the full body process.
You may be able to create a relaxing situation for yourself just by using your own imagination. I have many visual images in my head of a “happy place” that I call up whenever I need them. Try reading about my happy place, and then, close your eyes and see if you can call up an image of the setting I described.
My face is submerged in the salty water, snorkel poking out above the waves allowing me to breathe easily as I examine the colorful fish below. The water is so clear it appears I could reach out and touch them even though they are meters away. I can hear the sound of the water lapping against the side of the boat and the sun is hot on my back. My feet kick effortlessly propelling me through the water as I explore.
Create Your Own Imagery
If you were able to imagine yourself in the described setting, you may enjoy trying out your own visualization. Imagine what your happy place would be like and then take yourself to that location in your imagination. You may want to slow down your breathing and relax your body before you begin. Try to use all of your senses. Allow yourself to enjoy the sensations in this distant place for a few minutes and then count backward from 10 as you gradually become aware of your surroundings. This will help you adjust to the present moment feeling refreshed and relaxed.
We have all seen the research that boasts the many benefits of meditation. It is just one type of relaxation technique that you can try. If you have attempted to meditate before and didn’t find it relaxing, that is okay. Maybe one of these will be useful for you. You don’t have to spend extended periods of time meditating, although that is awesome for you if you do. These exercises can take as little as three minutes.
Here is a three minute guided meditation that just focuses on breathing. As before, if that increases your anxiety, choose something else.
You can also choose other guided meditations or meditate however feels best to you.
Do you know any more types of relaxation techniques that I should add? Leave a comment below to tell me about them or let me know what you think after trying some of the ones above!
These types of relaxation techniques are what I learned from reading “Rewire Your Anxious Brain, How to use the Neuroscience of Fear to End Anxiety, Panic & Worry by Catherine M. Pittman, PhD and Elizabeth M. Karle, MLIS.