Relaxation techniques: take a deep breath, and just enjoy life

Relaxation is not only about peace of mind or about enjoying a hobby. Relaxation is a process that decreases the effects of stress on your mind and body as well. Relaxation techniques can indeed help you cope with everyday stress and even with stress related to various health problems, such as heart diseases and pain. 

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

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

The benefits of relaxation techniques are as follows:

  • Slowing down heart rate
  • Lowering the blood pressure
  • Slowing the breathing rate
  • Improving the digestion
  • Maintenance of normal blood sugar levels
  • Reduction in activity of stress hormones
  • Increase in blood flow to major muscles
  • Reduction in muscle tension and chronic pain
  • Improvement in concentration and mood
  • Improvement in sleep quality
  • Lowering down fatigue
  • Reduction in anger and frustration
  • Boost in confidence to handle problems

To get the most of it, use relaxation techniques along with other positive coping methods, such as, positive thinking, finding humour, problem-solving, time management, exercising, getting good enough sleep, and reaching out to the support family and friends.

Forms of relaxation techniques

Health professionals namely complementary health practitioners, doctors and even psychotherapists can teach various relaxation techniques. But if your preference is towards self learning, then you can go for that as well.

In general, the relaxation techniques involve refocusing your attention on something calming and increasing your awareness towards your body. It does not matter which relaxation technique you choose. What matters is that you try to practice relaxation regularly in order to reap its benefits.

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

Please remember that relaxation techniques are skills. As with any skill, even your ability to relax improves with enough practice. Be patient with yourself. Do not let your effort to practice relaxation techniques become yet another stressor for you. If say one relaxation technique does not work for you, try another technique. If none of your efforts at stress reduction seem to work, talk to your doctor about other options to be explored.

Do bear in mind that certain people, especially those with serious psychological issues and a history of abuse, may experience some feelings of emotional discomfort during relaxation techniques. Although this happens to be 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 eight relaxation techniques that can help you evoke the relaxation response and reduce stress in return: 

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

2. Body scan to be followed. This technique blends breath focus with progressive muscle relaxation. After a few minutes spent on 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 out there. A body scan can definitely help boost your awareness of the mind-body connection. If you have had a recent surgery that affects your body image or have other difficulties with body image, this technique may be less helpful for you.

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

4. Mindfulness meditation technique. This practice 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 even the future. This form of meditation has enjoyed increasing popularity in recent years. It may be helpful for people with anxiety, depression, and more so pain.

5. Yoga, tai chi, and qigong to get going. These three ancient arts combine rhythmic breathing with a series of postures or flowing movements. The physical aspects of such practices offer a mental focus that can help distract you from the racing thoughts. They can also enhance your flexibility and balance. If you are not normally active, have health problems, or a painful or disabling condition, these relaxation techniques might be far too challenging. Do check with your doctor before starting them.

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

7. Being in a natural setting reduces muscle tension. If you cannot get to some real live greenery, then sounds from nature, like waves crashing on the beach, or 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 as well. Getting outdoors allows us to connect to the physical beauty of our world that is the oceans, flowers, trees, wildlife, earth and tune into our senses, which can help alleviate negative emotions. Observing a sunset or sunrise allows us to take the focus away from our own challenges.

8. Massage and other soothing activities. Lying down 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 encourage relaxation. Besides for feeling amazing, massage is accepted as a part of complementary and integrative medicine, which means that it’s often recommended along with the 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 in turn influences 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.

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

Enjoy yourself

Going to the movies, gardening, playing a board game, or visiting a museum aren’t research-backed relaxation strategies, but if they bring you pleasure, that’s a good reason to do them as well. 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.

Photo by Farsai Chaikulngamdee on Unsplash

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