In today’s busy lifestyle, we maybe can’t avoid stress, but there are ways to control it as it can lead to certain mental and physical health problems. An excellent way to manage stress is relaxation techniques.
But, many people don’t understand the great benefits they’ll get from the regular practice of these techniques, so they don’t include them in their daily plan.
These techniques are slowing down the breathing and heart rate, raising blood flow to major muscles, lowering blood pressure, lowering the stress hormones’ activity, easing muscle tension, improving the mood and concentration, and reducing fatigue, frustration, and anger.
The way they work is raising your awareness of the body, and refocusing your mind on something calming. This in turn will eliminate the stressful thoughts from your mind. Not only that relaxation techniques will eliminate your stress, but they will also improve your overall health.
Besides these techniques, you should incorporate other positive methods if you like to reduce your stress. Such is positive thinking, exercising, managing your time well, getting enough sleep as well as help from your closest ones, and consuming the right food.
We present you with ten simple relaxation techniques to lower your stress levels.
Guided imagery, or imagery techniques and visualization, are a great way to reduce stress. They involve the systematic practice of developing a detailed mental image in your head of some peaceful and attractive environment or setting. In this way, your mind will be distracted from the stressful thoughts and focused on something much more pleasant.
The guided visualization influences many cognitive processes in our brain, like attention, motor control, perception, memory, and planning. It also raises self-confidence and motivation, which are important parts when it comes to reducing stress. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice has published a 2012 study which claims that this method helps lower perceived stress, dyadic stress, as well as physical and psychological complaints.
In 2008, a Mayo Clinic Health Letter reported that guided visualization has shown to decrease the frequency of migraines, help manage stress, reduce anxiety and fear before surgery, as well as the side effects of cancer treatment.
Here’s just one way to do guided visualization:
- Sit comfortably in a quiet place with closed eyes. Take a couple of slow and deep breaths to relax your body and mind. Imagine you’re in a wonderful location you’d like to see. To make the imaginary location more vivid in your mind, focus on the different sensory attributes. Keep doing this until you notice you are calmed. Then, slowly return to the reality with your mind, and then open your eyes.
2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Another great stress reliever is progressive muscle relaxation. It’s consisted of 2 steps: tense your muscle, and then release that tension intentionally. In 2014, the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research has published a study that shows that this technique effectively lowers test anxiety among nursing students.
The IOSR Journal of Nursing and Health has published another Web MD which claims that using this technique in the treatment of chronic low back pain patients helps lower their pain and stress and improve their overall well-being. Usually, practitioners of progressive muscle relaxation begin at the feet and continue up to the face.
- Start by sitting comfortably. Take a few deep breaths to relax, and then focus your attention on one of your feet. For several seconds, think about the way it feels. Then, tense the muscles in that foot and squeeze as much as you can handle. Hold in that position for 10 seconds, and then relax the foot. While being relaxed, breathe slowly and deeply for half a minute. Then, repeat the same thing with the other foot. Continue doing this with the muscles in your legs, buttocks, stomach, back, arms, neck, and face.
Yoga simply radiates peace and calmness throughout the body and mind. It includes both, stationary and moving poses to help relax your body and calm your mind.
A simple but very effective pose for providing complete relaxation and lowering stress from all muscles is The Corpse Pose or Savasana. This pose also relieves headaches, improves sleep, and relieves mild depression. In 2011, the International Journal of Yoga has published a study that says that regular yoga practice improves life quality and encourages a balanced mental state. It can also improve your fitness and overall health. In fact, yoga helps reduce the risk of chronic diseases like high blood pressure and heart disease.
- Lie down on your back and spread your legs slightly apart. Place your arms by your sides with palms faced upwards. Take slow, deep breaths from your diaphragm (abdominal area), and close your eyes. Try to relax all of your muscles, and be in this position for 5-15 minutes. Other yoga poses to induce relaxation are Child’s Pose (Balasana), Legs Up The Wall (Viparita Karani), Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana), and Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana).
4. Tai Chi
Another effective technique for reducing stress is tai chi. It involves self-paced series of slow, flowing movements which make you relax, concentrate, and be aware of the vital energy circulating throughout your body. This will calm your mind and lower your stress. The focus during practicing tai chi is set on breathing and being aware of the present. It is a low-impact exercise so it’s excellent for older people who otherwise don’t prefer exercise.
The Psychiatric Clinics of North America has published a 2013 study according to which this technique might be effective in lowering anxiety, depression, mood disturbances, and stress. The best way to learn tai chi is in a class, or with a private tai chi instructor.
5. Relaxing Music
You might have heard already, but listening to slow and soothing music has a tremendous impact on the mind and body. It lowers the stress hormone levels and absorbs your complete attention. In this way, it distracts your mind from stressful thoughts, helping you to explore your feelings and emotions. There’s certain music that causes relaxation, thus being ideal for meditation.
The New York Academy of Sciences has released Web MD back in 2003, which shows that music is a potent method to evoke a happier and more positive disposition in many people. In 2013, PLOS ONE published another study that shows that music has a positive influence on the psychobiological stress system. So, listening to music before a standardized stressor can decrease the psychological and endocrine stress response.
Imperial College London has released a new (2016) study which claims that attending a concert can affect the activity of the endocrine system and down-regulate the stress. This study proved the same thing as 22 past studies, and that’s that listening to music in a hospital, laboratory, or another controlled setting can lower cortisol levels (1). So, the next time you feel stressed out, grab a set of headphones and play your favorite music.
6. Deep Breathing
Take a couple of deep breaths whenever you feel under stress. This is an instant stress reliever. Deep breathing is a simple but potent technique when it comes to relaxation. This relaxation technique reduces the blood pressure, slows down the heart rate, oxygenates your blood, clears your mind, and helps center your body. More oxygen while breathing deeply means less anxiety and stress.
The Stress and Coherence have published a 2007 study which claims that regular practice of deep breathing quickly and significantly lowers the stress levels. The Spanish journal Revista de enfermería has published another 2010 study according to which controlled breathing therapy lowers the levels of cortisol in our body. What’s more, deep breathing diverts your attention, providing you rest from your concerns. This makes it work as mediation.
- Sit in a straight position with closed eyes. Put one hand on your stomach and start inhaling through your nose slowly to feel the breath filling your abdominal area. Hold in this position for 5 seconds, and then do the same thing as you exhale through your mouth. Continue doing this for 5-10 minutes. You can try breathing from your stomach while in a lying position, as sitting one is more difficult for this type of breathing exercise.
7. Mindfulness Meditation
The old relaxation technique called meditation can as well help you release your stress and anxiety. It controls stress by lowering the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Mindfulness meditation is beneficial in so many ways when it comes to dealing with psychological stress. It involves a comfortable sitting position and breathing in a way to focus your mind on the present moment, without drifting into past or future concerns (2).
The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry has published a 2013 study which shows this mediation is beneficial in reducing the symptoms in generalized anxiety disorder, as well as improving the coping of stress investigated in lab stress challenge.
The same year, the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand has published another study that suggests that mindfulness meditation reduces the levels of stress hormone in the blood, pointing to the fact that it can reduce stress as well as the risk of stress-related diseases like peptic ulcers, psychiatric disorders, and migraines. JAMA Internal Medicine has published a 2014 study that shows that mindfulness meditation can ease depression, anxiety, pain, and other psychological stresses.
A great and quick way to decrease your stress is laughing. Not only that it will lighten your mood, but a good sense of humor will also cause physical changes in your body. Laughing improves the intake of air rich in oxygen, and increases the number of brain-released endorphins that reduce the levels of cortisol and adrenaline (stress-causing hormones), thus improving your mood. It also helps lower the physical symptoms of stress and cool down the stress response.
The American Journal of the Medical Sciences has published a study that suggests that short mirthful laughter will lower serum levels of epinephrine, DOPAC, cortisol, and growth hormone. In 2008, the American Physiological Society has conducted Elements Massage which shows that experiencing mirthful laughter stimulates the health-protecting hormones, and lowers potentially hazardous stress hormones.
So, whenever you feel under stress, watch a funny video or movie, chat with someone with a good sense of humor, or read the comics.
Massage is one of the best ways to relieve and prevent stress. You can give yourself a nice massage that involves rubbing, pressing, and manipulating your skin, tendons, muscles, and ligaments. This massage is part of the alternative and complementary medicine treatment for lowering pain, stress, and muscle tension. What’s more, massage helps to fall asleep, something which can be very difficult when a person is under stress.
The International Journal of Neuroscience has published a 2005 study according to which massage is beneficial in reducing the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body and increasing the levels of serotonin and dopamine- the happy hormones.
In 2010, the Autonomic Neuroscience: Basic & Clinical has published a study that proves that a 5-minute touch massage is helpful in lowering the stress response of your body. You can do a quick massage between tasks, or a nice foot massage before bedtime to help you relax. Another way is to consult a professional massage therapist.
10. Walking Breaks
A short walk of even 10 minutes can boost your endorphins which in turn will lower stress hormones and release mild depression. This rhythmic exercise engages not only your legs but also your arms. If performed mindfully, it relieves stress. In order to achieve that, you should fully concentrate on the present and on your body, instead of your thoughts. Focus on the sensation in your arms and legs, and your breathing as you move.
You should breathe deeply in your walking break, and try to choose a natural surroundings like a park. Nature calms the body and mind, and plus, the sun will provide you with vitamin D. You can call a close person at the end of the walk. Their reassuring voice will additionally calm you down.