Relaxation techniques can help you activate your natural relaxation response. When practiced regularly, these activities lead to a reduction in your everyday stress levels and a boost in your feelings of happiest and content. They also serve a protective quality by teaching you how to stay calm and collected in the face of life’s curveballs.
You can’t avoid all stress, but you can counteract its negative effects by learning how to induce a relaxation response (a state of deep rest that is the opposite of the stress response). The stress response floods your body with chemicals that prepare you for “fight or flight.” But while the stress response is helpful in true emergency situations where you must be alert, it wears your body down when constantly activated (and stress is activated by chronic pain or anxiety). The relaxation response brings your system back into balance: deepening your breathing, reducing stress hormones, slowing down your heart rate and blood pressure, and relaxing your muscles. In addition to its calming physical effects, research shows that the relaxation response also increases energy and focus, combats illness, relieves aches and pains, heightens problem-solving abilities, and boosts motivation and productivity.
Learning the basics of any relaxation technique isn’t difficult. But it takes practice to truly feel the full effects of their stress-relieving power: daily practice, in fact. 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.
Set aside time in your daily schedule
The best way to start and maintain a relaxation practice is by incorporating it into your daily routine. Schedule a set time either once or twice a day for your practice (You may find that it’s easier to stick with your practice if you do it first thing in the morning, before other tasks and responsibilities get in the way).
Don’t practice when you’re sleepy. These techniques can relax you so much that they can make you very sleepy, especially if it’s close to bedtime. You will get the most out of these techniques if you practice when you’re fully awake and alert.
Deep breathing for stress relief
Deep breathing is one of the simplest, 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 is the cornerstone of many other relaxation practices, also, and 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
The key is to breathe deeply from the abdomen (or diaphragm), getting as much 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. So, the next time you feel stressed, or you are in pain take a minute to slow down and breathe deeply:
- Sit comfortably with your back straight. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
- Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise. The hand on your chest should move very little.
- Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting your 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. Try to inhale enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls. Count slowly as you exhale. If you have a hard time breathing from your abdomen while sitting up, try lying on the floor. Put a small book on your stomach, and try to breathe so that the book rises as you inhale and falls as you exhale.
- You may continue this practice as long as you wish, but try to do it for a minimum of 60 seconds
We know that you can’t avoid stress, but these techniques can help you manage it. Set time aside daily and practice deep breathing, employ it when you need.