By Phoebe Chi, MD, MPH
For many, relaxation means zoning out in front of the TV or staring at the phone at the end of a stressful day. But this does little to reduce the damaging health effects of stress. To effectively combat stress, it is necessary to activate your body’s natural relaxation response. One way to do this is by practicing effective relaxation techniques. Fitting these activities into your life can help reduce everyday stress, boost your energy and mood, and improve your mental and physical health. When combined with effective stress management skills, you end up with a powerful, stress-busting combo.
This guide provides relaxation techniques that are best performed when you have 15 minutes and a comfortable environment, but which are extremely effective at countering your body’s stress response (by eliciting the “Relaxation Response”)….as a result leading to calming effects that can linger for days.
Don’t have 15 minutes? Then you need these quick relaxation techniques.
– Part I –
A Quick Review of Your Body’s Responses
– The Stress Response –
This is what happens when you are feeling stressed. The “fight-or-flight” or stress response is a reaction to perceived danger, which causes your body to experience the following:
• Pounding and racing heartrate
• Fast and shallow breathing
• Rising blood pressure
• Tight and tensed muscles
• Anxiety and inability to think clearly
– The Relaxation Response –
In opposition to the stress response is the relaxation response. This is what happens when you do relaxation techniques. This response puts your body at rest and allows you to experience the following:
• Slow and steady heartrate
• Deeper and more even breaths
• Normalized and stable blood pressure
• Loosened and relaxed muscles
• Mental clarity due to improved oxygen delivery to the brain
– Part II –
Tips for Successful Relaxation
To get the maximum benefit from these relaxation techniques, try to do the following:
• Wear loose, comfortable clothing.
• Find a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted for at least 15 minutes.
• Turn the lights down.
• If there is unavoidable noise, put on some background music or nature sounds.
• Turn off the phone and give yourself permission to devote some time to self-care.
• Sit or lie down in a comfortable position, with legs uncrossed and extended.
• Try each relaxation technique for at least a few days to give yourself a chance to find the one that is right for you.
• Don’t feel discouraged if you don’t achieve a given result the first few times.
• Remember that you are practicing a skill – like playing the piano. The more you practice, the more effective your relaxation skills become.
– Part III –
– 1 –
Simple Guided Relaxation
This audio-guided relaxation experience incorporates a variety of techniques such as guided imagery, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation.
◊ Time needed: 8 minutes
What to do:
- Get in a comfortable position
- Put on headphones (if needed)
- Click the “Calm” button below:
– 2 –
Full Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This technique works by increasing your awareness of the muscle tension that occurs during stress, and then forcing yourself to release that tension.
◊ Time needed: 15 minutes (30 minutes if using audio)
What to do:
- Sit back or lie down in a comfortable position. Close your eyes. Take a few slow, deep breaths.
- Beginning at your face, notice how your muscles feel. Are they tense, or relaxed?
- Tightly tense the muscles in your face by squeezing your eyes shut and tightening your lips.
- Hold this for 5-10 seconds.
- Now, release the tension from your face, allowing it to relax. Notice how relaxed they feel.
- Move down your body and repeat this process with each group of muscles.
– 3 –
Visualization is a powerful tool that involves using mental imagery to achieve a more relaxed state of mind. It is similar to daydreaming, in which you simply use the power of your imagination.
◊ Time needed: 10 minutes
What to do:
- Close your eyes and imagine a restful place–such as a dock on a quiet lake.
- Picture it as vividly as you can—everything you can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. Incorporate as many sensory details as possible:
• See the sun setting over the water
• Hear the birds singing
• Smell the pine trees
• Feel the cool water on your bare feet
• Taste the fresh, clean air
- Enjoy the feeling of your worries drifting away as you slowly explore your restful place.
- When you are ready, slowly open your eyes and come back to the present.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of Stress Management posts. If you missed the previous posts, here they are for your convenience:
Want to keep this information handy for future reference?
Below is a printer-friendly handout with all these techniques: