Planned relaxation calms anxiety and helps your body and mind recover from everyday rush and stress. Music, a long soak in the bath, or a walk in the park do the trick for some people, but for others it’s not so easy. If you feel you need help with learning to relax, try a relaxation or meditation class. Your GP and local library will have information about these.
- Choose a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.
- Before you start, do a few gentle stretching exercises to relieve muscular tension.
- Make yourself comfortable, either sitting or lying down.
- Start to breathe slowly and deeply, in a calm and effortless way.
- Gently tense, then relax, each part of your body, starting with your feet and working your way up to your face and head.
- As you focus on each area, think of warmth, heaviness and relaxation.
- Push any distracting thoughts to the back of your mind; imagine them floating away.
- Don’t try to relax; simply let go of the tension in your muscles and allow them to become relaxed.
- Let your mind go empty. Some people find it helpful to visualise a calm, beautiful place such as a garden or meadow.
- Stay like this for about 20 minutes, then take some deep breaths and open your eyes, but stay sitting or lying for a few moments before you get up.
Practise deep breathing at a regular time and in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Loosen or remove any tight clothes, such as shoes or jackets. Be completely comfortable.
Sit in a comfy chair which supports your head or lie on the floor or bed. Place your arms on the chair arms, or flat on the floor or bed, a little bit away from the side of your body with the palms up. If you’re lying down, stretch out your legs, keeping them hip-width apart or slightly wider. If you’re sitting in a chair, don’t cross your legs.
Good relaxation always starts with focusing on your breathing. The way to do it is to breathe in and out slowly and in a regular rhythm as this will help you to calm down.
- Fill up the whole of your lungs with air, without forcing. Imagine you’re filling up a bottle, so that your lungs fill from the bottom.
- Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Breathe in slowly and regularly counting from one to five (don’t worry if you can’t reach five at first).
- Then let the breath escape slowly, counting from one to five.
- Keep doing this until you feel calm. Breathe without pausing or holding your breath.
Practise this relaxed breathing for three to five minutes, two to three times a day (or whenever you feel stressed).
Deep muscle relaxation
This technique takes around 20 minutes. It stretches different muscles in turn and then relaxes them, to release tension from the body and relax your mind.
Find a warm, quiet place with no distractions. Get completely comfortable, either sitting or lying down. Close your eyes and begin by focusing on your breathing; breathing slowly and deeply, as described above.
If you have pain in certain muscles, or if there are muscles that you find it difficult to focus on, spend more time on relaxing other parts.
You may want to play some soothing music to help relaxation. As with all relaxation techniques, deep muscle relaxation will require a bit of practice before you start feeling its benefits.
For each exercise, hold the stretch for a few seconds, then relax. Repeat it a couple of times. It’s useful to keep to the same order as you work through the muscle groups:
- Face: push the eyebrows together, as though frowning, then release.
- Neck: gently tilt the head forwards, pushing chin down towards chest, then slowly lift again.
- Shoulders: pull them up towards the ears (shrug), then relax them down towards the feet.
- Chest: breathe slowly and deeply into the diaphragm (below your bottom rib) so that you’re using the whole of the lungs. Then breath slowly out, allowing the belly to deflate as all the air is exhaled.
- Arms: stretch the arms away from the body, reach, then relax.
- Legs: push the toes away from the body, then pull them towards body, then relax.
- Wrists and hands: stretch the wrist by pulling the hand up towards you, and stretch out the fingers and thumbs, then relax.
Spend some time lying quietly after your relaxation with your eyes closed. When you feel ready, stretch and get up slowly.
Try these ten easy relaxation tips to feel more relaxed and in control.
1. Take a short break and leave a stressful situation. If you are at work, offer to run an errand or go for a short walk. A few minutes away can help you think clearly and the walk will get rid of some of the tension in your body. 2. Take a break from the activity you are working on and do something different. Sometimes it helps to come back to a stressful task later when you feel more relaxed instead of persevering. If you are at home with small children it is often better to stop when they, and you, become frustrated and take some time out to do something else so everyone can calm down.
3. Listen to relaxing music while you work. Listening to classical or nature music has been shown to lower heart rate and slow breathing. People often report feeling calmer after listening to calming music. Develop the habit of playing music in the background while you work for easy relaxation.
4. Take regular breaks during the day. Spend 5-10 minutes to read something uplifting or humorous, or chat with a friend. Small breaks help to prevent your mind and body from becoming fatigued, a major source of stress.
5. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to be fully aware of the present moment. It is a skill that helps to reduce stress and depression. Learning relaxation techniques is a good way to start learning mindfulness. As you gradually become more aware of your body and subtle changes that occur with relaxation your ability to notice small changes will improve. Start by spending 5 minutes a day just sitting in the quite noticing the sights, sounds and bodily sensations you are having. You can also learn mindfulness through meditation techniques.
6. Change your focus. As people feel more stressed their attention becomes focused on what they believe to be the cause of their stress and they ignore other information. Write down the things that were good about the day. Keep a gratitude journal.
7. Have a hot bath or shower. This will help to get rid of the tension in your muscles which is a normal result of stress.
8. Write down the things that are worrying you. If you are worried it is very difficult to relax easily. Once you have written them down then see how much control you have over them. Can you take any action to solve the problem or are you worrying about things that are out of your control. Worry is a habit that can be helped by learning effective relaxation techniques.
9. Keep things in perspective. Ask yourself “how important is it?”, “How important will it be in a year’s time?” Many of the things that cause stress are not important when we look at the big picture.
10. Slow your breathing and purposefully relax your body for quick results. This will be easier if you have learned easy relaxation methods that you can use when you need them.