Knowing how to let go of your worries is important for ensuring your ongoing health and well-being, as well as restoring the joy and happiness in your life. A variety of different techniques can help you bring your nervous system back into balance by producing the relaxation response. The relaxation response is not lying on the couch or sleeping but a mentally active process that leaves the body relaxed, calm and focused.
Learning the basics of these relaxation techniques isn’t difficult, but it does take practice. Most stress experts recommend setting aside at least 10 to 20 minutes a day for your relaxation practice. If you’d like to get even more stress relief, aim for 30 minutes to an hour. If that sounds like a daunting commitment, remember that many of these techniques can be incorporated into your existing daily schedule.
**When choosing a relaxation technique, consider your specific needs, preferences, fitness level and the way you tend to react to stress. In many cases, you may find that alternating or combining different techniques will keep you motivated and provide you with the best results.
So how do you respond to stress? The way you respond to stress may influence the relaxation technique that works best for you:
- Overexcited: If you tend to become angry, agitated, or keyed up under stress and you feel that you want to kick, yell and scream, then you may respond best to techniques such as deep breathing, or guided imagery.
- Underexcited: If you tend to become depressed, withdrawn, or spaced out under stress, then you may respond best to relaxation techniques that are stimulating and that energize your nervous system, such as rhythmic exercise.
- Frozen: (both overexcited and underexcited at the same time) If you tend to freeze: speeding up in some ways while slowing down in others, your challenge is to identify relaxation techniques that provide both safety and stimulation to help you “reboot” your system. Techniques such as mindfulness, walking or power yoga might work well for you.
Ok, so let’s take a look at some of the techniques that you can use to maintain your well being:
Relaxation Technique 1: Breathing Meditation
With its focus on full, cleansing breaths; deep breathing is a simple, yet powerful, relaxation technique. It’s easy to learn, can be practiced almost anywhere and provides a quick way to get your stress levels in check. Deep breathing can be combined with other relaxing elements such as aromatherapy and music. All you really need is a few minutes and a place to stretch out.
How to practice deep breathing meditation:
The key to deep breathing is to breath deeply from the abdomen, getting as much fresh air as possible in your lungs. When you take deep breaths from the abdomen rather than shallow breaths from your upper chest, you inhale more oxygen. The more oxygen you get, the less tense, short-of-breath and anxious you feel.
– Sit comfortably with your back straight. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
– Breathe in through your nose. Make the hand on your stomach rise. And the hand on your chest move.
– Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting abdominal muscles.
– The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little.
– Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
Relaxation Technique 2: Progressive Muscle Relaxation for Stress Relief
This technique involves a two-step process in which you systematically tense and relax different muscle groups in the body.
With regular practice, progressive muscle relaxation gives you an intimate familiarity with what tension-as well as complete relaxation- feels like in different parts of the body.
This awareness helps you spot and counteract the first signs of the muscular tension that accompanies stress. And as your body relaxed, so will your mind. You can combine deep breathing with progressive muscle relaxing for an additional stress relief.
How to practice progressive muscle relaxation:
Before practicing this technique, consult with your doctor if you have a history of muscle spasms, back problems, or other serious injuries that may be aggravated by tensing muscles.
Most progressive muscle relaxation practitioners start at the feet and work their way up to the face.
– Loosen your clothing, take off your shoes and get comfortable
– Take a few minutes to relax, breathing in and out in slow, deep breaths.
– When you are relaxed and ready to start, shift your attention to your right foot.
– Take a moment 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.
– Relax your right foot. Focus on the tension flowing away and how the leg feels limp and loose
– Stay in this relaxed state for a moment, breathing deeply and slowly
– When you’re ready, shift your attention to your left foot.
– Follow the same sequence of muscle tension and release
– Move slowly up your body contracting and relaxing the muscle groups as you go.
The most popular sequence runs as follows:
Right foot, left foot, right calf, left calf, right thigh, left thigh, hips and butt, stomach, chest, back, right arm and hand, left arm and hand, neck and shoulders, face.
- Tip: It may take some practice at first, but try not to tense muscles other than those intended.
Relaxation Technique 3: Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness is the ability to remain aware of how you are feeling right now, your “moment to moment” experience. Thinking about the past (blaming and judging yourself) or worrying about the future can often lead to a degree of stress that is overwhelming. But by staying calm and focused in the present moment, you can bring your nervous system back into balance. Mindfulness can be applied to activities such as walking, exercising, or eating. Meditations that cultivate mindfulness have long been used to reduce stress. Some these meditations bring you into the present by focusing you attention on a single repetitive action, such as your breathing, a few repeated words, or a flickering light from a candle.
How to practice mindfulness meditation:
– Choose a secluded place in your home or office where you can relax without distractions or interruptions.
– Get comfortable, but avoid lying down as this may lead to you falling asleep.
– Sit up with your spine straight, either in a chair or cross-legged on the floor.
– Choose to focus on an object in your surroundings to enhance your concentration.
- Tip: don’t worry about distracting thoughts that go through your mind. If thoughts intrude during your relaxation session, don’t fight them. Instead, gently turn your attention back to your point of focus.
Relaxation Technique 4: Visualization Meditation
Visualization or a guided imagery is a variation on traditional meditation that requires you to employ not only your visual sense, but also your sense of taste, touch, smell, and sound. Visualization involves imagining a scene in which you feel at peace, free to let go of all tension and anxiety. Choose whatever setting is most calming to you, whether it’s a favorite childhood spot, a tropical beach, etc… You can do this visualization exercise on your own in silence while listening to soothing music.
How to practice mindfulness visualization:
– Find a quiet, relaxed place. Close your eyes and let your worries drift away.
– Imagine your restful place, picture it as vividly as you can- how it looks, smells, and feels.
– Visualization works best if you can incorporate as many sensory details as possible, minimum 3 senses.
– Enjoy the feeling of deep relaxation that envelopes you as you slowly explore your restful place.
– When you are ready, gently open your eyes and come back to the present.
- Tip: It is normal if you sometimes lose track of where you are during a guided imagery session.
Relaxation Technique 5: Yoga
Good old yoga involves a series of both moving and stationary poses, combined with deep breathing. As well as reducing anxiety and stress, yoga can also improve flexibility, strength, balance and stamina. Practiced regularly, it can also strengthen the relaxation response in your daily life.
- Tip: Since injuries can happen when yoga is practiced incorrectly, it’s best to learn by attending group classes, hiring a private teacher, or at least following video instructions.
Relaxation Technique 6: Tai Chi
Tai Chi is a self-paced, non-competitive series of slow, flowing body movements. These movements emphasize concentration, relaxation, and the conscious circulation of vital energy throughout the body. Though Tai Chi has its roots in martial arts, today it is primarily practiced as a way of calming the mind, conditioning the body, and reducing stress. As in meditation, Tai Chi practitioners focus on their breathing and keeping their attention in the present moment.
- Tip: Tai chi is a safe, low-impact option for people of all ages and levels of fitness, including older adults and those recovering from injuries. Like yoga, once you’ve learned the basics, you can practice alone or with others.
Relaxation Technique 7: Rhythmic Exercise
Rhythmic exercise -such as running, walking, rowing, or cycling- is the most effective at relieving stress when performed with relaxation in mind. As with meditation, mindfulness requires being fully engaged in the present moment, focusing your mind on how your body feels right now. As you exercise, focus on the physical activity of your body’s movement and how your breathing complements that movement.
- Tip: Try to incorporate the above mentioned relaxation techniques in your routine to let go of stress and stay healthy.
The following are a few activities for an immediate, quick change of mood:
- Watch or listen to a motivational speech.
- Indulge in a small piece of dark chocolate.
- Light a scented candle or burn some incense sticks.
- Look at a cherished photo album.
- Enjoy the beauty of nature- a garden, the beach, etc…
- Call a friend.
- Go for a short walk.
- Listen to uplifting music.
- Play with a pet.
- Wear your favorite clothing.
- Soak in a hot bath.
- Squeeze a rubbery stress ball.
Learning to manage stress and maintain your well-being needs practice but is very rewarding. It will keep you feeling refreshed, invigorated and energetic.
By Rania Salem