When stress chronically affects you, you may have symptoms like muscle pain, anxiety, insomnia, or hormone imbalance. Putting one or more relaxation techniques into practice each day can help you fight chronic stress and reverse its effects over time.
1. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Mental stress accumulates as physical tension in the body, and progressive muscle relaxation is a demonstration of that. It involves tightly contracting, briefly holding and then releasing one muscle group at a time.
“I find that deep breathing and meditation help me handle practically any situation.”
~ Nathan East
Lying down or sitting, begin either at the top of your body with your scalp or at the bottom with your feet. Contract each muscle group one by one, holding the squeeze for the slow count of three. Inhale during the contraction and exhale during the release. If you want, play some relaxing music or diffuse some aromatherapy oils to enhance the mood.
2. Deep Breathing Exercises
Ever felt like you’re in “fight or flight” mode pretty much every day under the stress of work, parenting, or something else? Stress is normal. But it’s important you calm down the nervous system and return to homeostasis to prevent developing stress-related diseases.
Slow, deep breathing activates your autonomous nervous system and soothes your central nervous system. Effectively, it takes you out of the “fight or flight” mode where you feel continually “wired.”
“Reduce the stress levels in your life through relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, and exercise. You’ll look and feel way better for it.”
~ Suzanne Somers
“From breathing techniques, muscle toning to overall flexibility and relaxation, my Pilates sessions have become something of a weekly necessity that keeps me fit, happy and energized.”
~ Pippa Middleton
If it helps, count slowly to four on your exhale, hold for the count of two or three, and exhale for the slow count of eight. Your exhale should last longer than your inhale to promote a deeper state of relaxation. Holding your breath also helps slow it down and lower biometrics like your heart rate and blood pressure.
Do your deep breathing in an upright seated position. Good posture allows more air to enter your lungs. Fill up your lungs to their maximal capacity on inhales and exhale fully to make a complete carbon dioxide exchange. This can help not just with relaxation, but even mental clarity and alertness. Deep breathing helps oxygenate your body and brain, and you only need to do it for about 2 minutes for results.
3. Full Body Scan
A full-body scan is somewhat similar to progressive muscle relaxation, but it’s more of a visualization practice. It’s a good technique to use when you’re in public and the best thing you can do is close your eyes to relax in times of stress.
Like with progressive muscle relaxation, you start at the top or bottom of your body and move the opposite direction. You do the same for a full-body scan, but you’re only moving your awareness through your body. Visualize light or water flushing through each area part by part. Every time you inhale deeply, move the light or water along to the next body part. Exhale slowly and visualize the light or water flooding that area.
4. Mindful Meditation
Mindful meditation is simply remaining aware of your thoughts and sitting in silence. The aim is to not react to the thoughts you observe but to just observe them. Research shows that as little as two minutes a day is all it takes to see a reduction in stress levels. You can also repeat a two-minute meditation session any time you feel stressed during the day.
“How does one practice mindfulness? Sit in meditation. Be aware of only your breath.”
~ Gautama Buddha
If mindful meditation is hard for you, start with a guided meditation or try a deep breathing exercise. These give you something on which to focus your mind. With practice, start doing mindful meditation, in which you sit in complete silence without controlling your breath. With your eyes closed and muscles relaxed, the goal is to watch the activities of your mind without attachment or identification with them.
Research shows the brain makes positive changes over time with meditation practice, with noticeable differences in brain scans. It can even grow in size, which is a significant sign of health.
Massage improves circulation and relieves muscle tension, allowing you to quickly relieve physical stress. According to research, just 10 minutes of massage can get your nervous system out of “fight or flight” and ease anxiety.
Self-massage tools like foam rollers and massage balls can help you work out muscle tightness through myofascial release–a massage technique for stimulating the fibrous fascia layer outside the muscle. The fascia is filled with nerves and prone to remaining tight even when a muscle is not. Myofascial release has been shown to boost the body’s production of endorphins and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
In addition to myofascial release tools, massage chairs, foot massagers and other electronic massage devices are options. While not all do a professional job, they can help you relax and manage stress.
The Importance of Relaxation
Whether you do them in the morning to combat anxiety or in the night to help with insomnia, relaxation techniques are effective. They have too many benefits to count, from managing stress to dissolving physical tension that can lead to pain in muscles. By soothing your nervous system, relaxation techniques can help you deal with a high-stress job or with stressful periods in life.