Relaxation doesn’t always come easy. Some find it difficult to unwind when they’ve got home from work, especially with the stress of everyday life still playing on their minds. Difficulty relaxing independently can be incredibly frustrating for some – leading to anxiety and sleepless nights which, ironically, all contribute to even more stress.
Luckily, over the years several clever experts have come up with methods that everyone can try to help relax. All four of these techniques can be carried out in the comfort of your own home completely free of charge, meaning that there’s no reason that anybody should feel like they can’t chill out when they get home at the end of the day.
Breathing deeply, slowly and rhythmically is key to any relaxation technique. We westerners have been conditioned to find deep breathing unnatural, but breathing deeply is an excellent way to reduce stress.
When humans are especially stressed, we breathe quicker as our heart rate and blood pressure increase. When we take a moment and slow our breathing, it sends signals to the brain to slow down also, inducing a response of relaxation – slowing the heart rate and decreasing blood pressure if carried out effectively.
For the most effective deep breathing session, relax your muscles as best as you can – particularly the ones in the abdomen. You may find it easier to lie flat on your back, perhaps using a yoga mat for comfort.
Breathe in deeply through your nose and out through your mouth. To help to slow down your breathing, some people find it helps to count to five on the inhale and exhale. You should draw your breath down into your gut as deeply as possible, letting your lungs and diaphragm expand naturally.
Try keeping this up for five minutes every day for best results, focusing on the timing of your breath and letting your breathing flow as naturally as possible.
Meditation is one of the oldest relaxation techniques going, having first been practiced thousands of years ago. It was Buddha himself who made meditation popular in Asia. Back then it was seen more as a spiritual tool, but nowadays it has been linked to a wealth of health benefits and medical professionals everywhere recommend meditation for relaxation, reduced stress and better sleeping patterns.
To meditate, you must find a secluded, comfortable area where you will not be disturbed for 20 – 30 minutes. You should sit upright, making sure that you are seated comfortably – although it’s not recommended that you meditate lying down, as you may fall asleep!
Focus your mind on something simple and organic, such as a repetitive sound (you may have heard the phrase ‘om’ being used) or your own breathing. Now, breathing deeply and slowly, keep your mind from wandering from the present moment for the duration of your session.
This is mindfulness mediation and it encourages judgement-free awareness and calm in day-to-day life. Regular practice of meditation has been proven to reduce people’s everyday anxiety levels.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This is a relaxation technique that helps to loosen tension from your muscles gradually and easily through awareness and focus. When carried out correctly, this practice should result in a feeling of relief and sudden relaxation flowing through your muscles. Muscle tension is associated with stress – when we are stressed, we often refer to ourselves as ‘tense’, or ‘tensed up’.
To begin, lie down comfortably, with your limbs loose and limber. As with most relaxation exercises, deep breathing is important here – you must draw your attention to how your body feels as you breathe in deeply and let your breath go slowly. Once you have focused your attention wholly to your body, it’s time to start paying attention to individual muscle groups.
Focus your attention to the selected muscle group and tense it for 5 seconds whilst inhaling. You should tense enough that you can feel it, but not enough to feel any pain. If you have an injury, it’s best to avoid the injured area altogether. On your exhale, release the muscle and pay attention to the relief and relaxed feeling set in.
Progressive relaxation guides may vary in their order for tensing muscles. You may wish to browse around for the routine that feels the most right with you.
With guided imagery, we use our imagination to visualize a setting that we find relaxing. Think babbling brooks, calming meadows, soft clouds and warm beaches. Put simply, guided imagery is the idea of coming up with a ‘happy place’ that we can retreat to in order to escape from stress. Guided imagery can bring about the relaxed state of mind that is best for healing and positive focus.
By coming up with a detailed, peaceful image associated with relaxation, with regular practice, you can recall this image in stressful situations, be reminded of your relaxed state and become less stressed.
It’s often best to combine guided imagery with other relaxation techniques, particularly progressive muscle relaxation. By calling on an image that brings about relaxation purely by association, the relaxation technique is improved and, in turn, the relaxation provided by progressive muscle relaxation helps to strengthen the calm feeling associated with the image. There are plenty of audio aids available from reputable sources online where these techniques are combined effectively.
The Relaxation Response
In addition to these basic techniques, several other relaxation practices can be utilized for reduced stress, such as yoga, tai chi, qi gong, massage and music therapy. Most of these practices aim to induce the ‘relaxation response’, a term coined by Dr. Herbert Benson in the twentieth century.
Dr. Benson encouraged everyone to pick up meditation, or practices that use the deep breathing andawareness aspects of meditation like yoga and tai chi, to improve their health and mindfulness.