Stress is a daily part of life for most people. And while some stress helps us survive, chronic stress can lead to sickness. By employing certain relaxation techniques, we can help combat the stress of life and make it more manageable.
Relaxation techniques are more than watching TV or zoning out on social media, however. Although these activities can be more relaxing than working or worrying about life, they can still leave us physically and mentally tense. Effective relaxation techniques actually tap into the body’s natural “rest and digest” response to promote peace and calm.
6 Best Relaxation Techniques to Reduce Stress
When your body’s relaxation response is triggered, it can lead to:
- Slower heart rate
- Relaxed muscles
- Deeper and slower breaths
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved digestion
- More blood flow to the brain
- Overall, a greater sense of well-being
Below are some of the best exercises to use for activating this response.
1. Deep Breathing
Breathing deeply is a simple act that can have a big impact. Plus, you can practice it just about anywhere—even in a public space.
Here’s how to start:
- Sit comfortably and take an inhale through your nose, breathing from your belly. Put your hand lightly on your stomach and feel it rise as your stomach expands. Imagine the breath traveling from your belly up through your lungs and chest.
- Hold the breath for a beat, then exhale through your mouth. Push the air out as you feel your stomach contract.
- Continue breathing like this for five to ten full breaths.
Deep breathing like this stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from your head to your digestive system and is affected by emotional stress.
2. Body Scan Meditation
The body scan is a relaxation technique that raises awareness of tense muscles or other physical discomforts. It’s a good practice to use after deep breathing for a few minutes.
Start at your head and slowly work through each part of your body, one at a time. For example, close your eyes and notice the top of your head, then the sides of your head, back of your head, and your forehead. Move down to your throat, neck and shoulders, chest, stomach, and into each part of the lower body until you reach your feet.
As you pause awareness on each part, note any sensations, pain, or tightness there. Don’t try to push it away—just sit in awareness and breath through it.
Once you’ve reached your feet, you might slowly work back up to your head.
3. Mindfulness Meditation
This is perhaps the most common relaxation technique. Mindfulness meditation is about being in the present moment and simply focusing on your breath. Many people have found mindfulness meditation helpful when coping with mental health concerns like depression or anxiety, as well as stress.
- To do mindfulness meditation, sit comfortably and bring your attention to your breath. It’s best to do this in a quiet location where you can avoid interruptions.
- Focus on your breath going in and out. Or, you can choose a physical object to focus on, such as a candle flame.
- When thoughts creep in about the past or future (and they will), gently bring your attention back to the present moment and your breath going in and out.
Mindfulness meditations are powerful relaxation techniques for stress relief because they help you get more comfortable with the present instead of worrying about what you’ve done or what you need to do next.
Visualization is a technique that involves calming mental images. You imagine yourself in a location that makes you feel calm and relaxed, such as a beach, park, or home of a loved one.
With that place in mind, think about all the sense you feel there. What do you see, hear, feel and smell? Then, focus on your breathing as you visualize your calming spot.
5. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
When you’re stressed, your muscles often tighten. This can be frustrating because it’s hard to mentally calm yourself if your body feels uptight. So, that’s where progressive muscle relaxation comes in.
With this relaxation technique, you focus on each muscle group at a time, tensing up the muscles for about five seconds and then relaxing them for a few seconds. Just like with body scan, start at your head and move all the way down to your toes.
Doing this can help gradually relax muscles and keep you more in tune with your body’s sensations.
6. Yoga Poses
Yoga is a good form of stress relief because it combines mindfulness with physical movement. Plus, doing yoga regularly can help build strength, balance and flexibility.
There are different types of yoga, ranging from the faster-moving power yoga to gentle hatha yoga. In general, slower yoga movements are best for stress relief. But some people prefer power yoga because it feels more like a workout, which can also be helpful in relieving stress.
See more benefits of yoga here.
The Bottom Line
Try to make relaxation techniques a regular part of your daily routine. You can’t avoid stress completely, but you can manage your reaction to it and add more calmness to your life. Start today by using one or more of the techniques above and finding what works best for you.