It’s no news flash that stress takes a serious toll on our physical and mental health. As the University of Maryland Medical Center reports, well over half of all doctor office visits in the U.S. are somehow tied to stress-related disorders. As life gets faster and more hectic, multitasking and electronic devices ever more essential, diets less healthy, physical activity rarer, and economic pressure more profound, our stress levels continuously rise and our ability to cope keeps diminishing. Finding natural ways to calm down, melt away the stress, and regain some sense of control is essential for maintaining our sanity and our physical health, as unchecked stress increases the risk of developing a wide variety of chronic diseases. Relaxation techniques are a safe, holistic, effective tool for beating stress. There are a lot to choose from, and not every technique works as well for some people as for others. Finding techniques that suit your preferences and schedule and that are personally effective can take some trail and error. Here are five categories of relaxation techniques to familiarize yourself with. Read through and pick the one that sounds most amenable. Try techniques from the category consistently for a few weeks to see how it goes (all techniques take practice and patience to become useful), and if necessary, switch to another category. Eventually, you’ll find exactly the right type and specific technique to de-stress and approach each day feeling renewed.
Autogenic Relaxation Techniques
“Autogenic” refers to coming from within you. It is, in essence, a way to train your body to relax on command. You begin by closing your eyes and imagining a peaceful place, repeating a soothing word or phrase that you will come to associate with relaxing. At the same time, focus on sensations in your body, such as breathing or your heart beat, and bring them under your control. This can be practiced generally for a while to get a feel for whether it’s a good fit for your personality and needs. If you decide to get serious about autogenic training for relaxation, there is a series of six basic exercises to master; read up on them or find an instructor.
Meditative Relaxation Techniques
There are many types of meditation, but at their most basic, the practices all revolve around focusing on a single point of reference. The point of reference can be your own breathing, a repeated word or phrase (called a mantra, as in transcendental meditation), a sound, a fixed mental image, an object, a bodily sensation, or something else. Meditation is often performed with eyes closed and in a seated position with proper posture. Meditation seems easy in theory, but can be quite difficult to master. Taking some guided meditation courses with a qualified professional goes a long way toward helping you get the hang of it. If you’re the type who has trouble sitting still, meditation may seem like a poor choice, but it can be particularly rewarding if you stick with it.
Breathing Relaxation Techniques
As with meditation, there are a variety of ways to employ your own breathing in relaxation techniques. A common approach is to place one open palm on your chest and the other on your belly as you breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose, hold it, then exhale through your mouth, focusing on the sensations of your chest and stomach rising and falling. Hold your breath for up to 7 seconds, and make sure the hand on your abdomen rises higher than the one on your chest. Your exhalations should take about twice as long as your inhalations.
Visualization Relaxation Techniques
This technique is based on taking yourself on a soothing mental journey to a calming place. Though it’s called visualization, it involves all the senses, not just sight. Close your eyes and imagine yourself relaxing in a peaceful place. Engage all your senses by noting, for example, the blueness of the sky, the smell of the air, the taste of a cool drink, the feel of the grass beneath you, and the sound of birds chirping. This technique is best practiced seated in a comfortable, quiet place in comfy clothing (or perhaps none at all). If you search online for guided imagery recordings, you’ll find lots of free pre-recorded narrations to help you along a relaxing visualization journey.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation Techniques
Like many relaxation techniques, progressive muscle relaxation involves focusing in on a particular point of reference. In this case, it’s bodily sensations created by tensing and releasing muscle groups in a progressive order. Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and begin at your toes one foot at a time, tensing them up slowly, holding for 5 seconds, then gradually releasing. Relax for 30 seconds, then tense muscles in your foot the same way, then move up to your calves and thighs, all the way up to facial muscles. Focus closely on what you feel the entire time. The more you practice this, the better you’ll get at isolating smaller muscle groups.
www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/relaxation-technique/art-20045368?pg=2 umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/treatment/relaxation-techniques www.webmd.com/balance/tc/autogenic-training-topic-overview www.psychologytoday.com/basics/meditation psychcentral.com/lib/learning-deep-breathing/