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Home Health Library article Relaxation techniques: Try these steps to reduce stress

Relaxation techniques: Try these steps to reduce stress

Relaxation techniques are a great way to help with stress management. Relaxation isn't only about peace of mind or enjoying a hobby. It's a process that decreases the stress effects on your mind and body. Relaxation techniques can help you cope with everyday stress. And these techniques can help with long-term stress or stress related to various health problems, such as heart disease and pain.

Whether your stress is spiraling out of control or you've already got it tamed, you can benefit from learning relaxation techniques. Learning basic relaxation techniques is easy. Relaxation techniques are often free or low cost, pose little risk, and can be done nearly anywhere.

Explore simple relaxation techniques and get started on de-stressing your life and improving your health and overall well-being.

The benefits of relaxation techniques

When faced with many responsibilities and tasks or the demands of an illness, relaxation techniques may not be a priority in your life. But that means you might miss out on the health benefits of relaxation.

Practicing relaxation techniques can have many benefits, such as:

  • Slowing heart rate
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Slowing breathing rate
  • Improving digestion
  • Controlling blood sugar levels
  • Reducing activity of stress hormones
  • Increasing blood flow to major muscles
  • Reducing muscle tension and chronic pain
  • Improving focus and mood
  • Improving sleep quality
  • Lowering fatigue
  • Reducing anger and frustration
  • Boosting confidence to handle problems

To get the most benefit, use relaxation techniques along with other positive coping methods, such as:

  • Thinking positively
  • Finding humor
  • Problem-solving
  • Managing time and priorities
  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Spending time outside
  • Reaching out to supportive family and friends

Types of relaxation techniques

Health care providers such as complementary and integrative health specialists and mental health providers can teach many relaxation techniques. But you can also learn some relaxation techniques on your own.

In general, relaxation techniques involve refocusing your attention on something calming and increasing awareness of your body. It doesn't matter which relaxation technique you choose. What matters is that you try to practice relaxation regularly to reap its benefits.

Types of relaxation techniques include:

  • Autogenic relaxation. Autogenic means something that comes from within you. In this relaxation technique, you use both visual imagery and body awareness to reduce stress.

    You repeat words or suggestions in your mind that may help you relax and reduce muscle tension. For example, you may imagine a peaceful setting. Then you can focus on relaxing your breathing, slowing your heart rate, or feeling different physical sensations, such as relaxing each arm or leg one by one.

  • Progressive muscle relaxation. In this relaxation technique, you focus on slowly tensing and then relaxing each muscle group.

    This can help you focus on the difference between muscle tension and relaxation. You can become more aware of physical sensations.

    In one method of progressive muscle relaxation, you start by tensing and relaxing the muscles in your toes and progressively working your way up to your neck and head. This is best done in a quiet area without interruptions. You can also start with your head and neck and work down to your toes. Tense your muscles for about five seconds and then relax for 30 seconds, and repeat.

  • Visualization. In this relaxation technique, you may form mental images to take a visual journey to a peaceful, calming place or situation.

    To relax using visualization, try to include as many senses as you can, such as smell, sight, sound and touch. If you imagine relaxing at the ocean, for instance, think about the smell of salt water, the sound of crashing waves and the warmth of the sun on your body.

    You may want to close your eyes, sit in a quiet spot, loosen any tight clothing, and focus on your breathing. Aim to focus on the present and think positive thoughts.

Other relaxation techniques may include:

  • Deep breathing
  • Massage
  • Meditation
  • Tai chi
  • Yoga
  • Biofeedback
  • Music and art therapy
  • Aromatherapy
  • Hydrotherapy

Relaxation techniques take practice

As you learn relaxation techniques, you can become more aware of muscle tension and other physical sensations of stress. Once you know what the stress response feels like, you can make a conscious effort to practice a relaxation technique the moment you start to feel stress symptoms. This can prevent stress from spiraling out of control and decreasing your quality of life.

Remember that relaxation techniques are skills. As with any skill, your ability to relax improves with practice. Be patient with yourself. Don't let your effort to practice relaxation techniques become yet another stressor.

If one relaxation technique doesn't work for you, try another technique. If none of your efforts at stress reduction seems to work, talk to your health care provider about other options.

Also, keep in mind that some people, especially those with serious mental health issues and a history of abuse, may experience feelings of emotional discomfort during some relaxation techniques. Although this is rare, if you experience emotional discomfort during relaxation techniques, stop what you're doing. Consider talking to your health care provider or mental health provider.

Last Updated: April 28th, 2022