When we are thinking of relaxation, we usually think of doing activities that we enjoy as sleeping, watching TV, going out with friends. It is true that giving time to ourselves act as relaxation, but there are specific techniques that help us reduce stress quickly even if we are at work or at a bus stop.
When we are feeling stressed we tend to breath either quickly or without rhythm. The consequence is to hyperventilate and experience feeling of suffocation. Breathing technique is cornerstone of other relaxation techniques and is helpful in many stressful situations, as it is quick and needs to be only in a sitting position. Beginners need to exercise the technique several times a day in order to get used of the breathing. People are used to breathing from the upper chest and might take a while to start breathing from lower down in your stomach.
- Sit comfortably and make sure that your back is straight.
- Place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
- Breathe in through your nose and watch your stomach rising. The hand on your chest should move very little.
- Gently exhale from your nose. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale.
- Repeat, keeping the rhythm. Target is to breathe 8 to 12 cycles (breath in – breath out) in 1 minute.
At the start, you might feel that you don’t take enough oxygen, but you need to get used to the technique and practice several times per day. Then you will be able to breathe deeply from your stomach.
Progressive muscle relaxation is a widely used technique which uses the tensing of muscles to reduce stress. This technique requires everyday practice for at least of 6 months in order to reduce the time that you need to relax. It lasts from 30 to 45 minutes, needs a quiet place and needs you to lay down on bed, sofa or floor. It is important not to fall asleep before starting the technique, so it is better to avoid practicing before going to bed.
- Make sure that the room is not too warm or too cold.
- Take off your shoes and wear comfortable clothes
- Lay down on a bed or sofa, carpet or a yoga mat with your hand palms open with the side on the floor
- Focus on your breathing, take some time to relax, breathing in and out.
- When you’re ready shift your attention to your arms and hands. Take a moment to focus on the way they feel. Slowly tense the muscles in your both arms, squeezing as tightly as you can, making fists and lifting them a bit of the floor hold for 6 sec and then relax. Repeat the exercise.
- Do the same exercise with your legs. Lift both legs from the floor, toes pointing to you, hold and relax. Repeat the exercise
- Now, lift your legs from the floor with toes pointing like in ballet, hold and relax. Repeat the exercise.
- Continue with neck and shoulders, tense muscles of neck and shoulders and bring shoulders towards your ears, hold and relax. Repeat the exercise
- Now as you lay down on the floor, try to raise gently your back like an arrow. Your hips and head remains on the floor. Hold and relax and then repeat.
- The last muscle group is face muscles. In order to relax them try to do an ugly face by squeezing your eyes and mouth, hold and relax. Repeat the exercise.
- Finally, check which muscles aren’t feeling relaxed and repeat the exercise as before.
If you have trouble practicing relaxation on your own, try to use an audio tape to help you concentrate on the voice or visit a specialist. It is important to give time to relax each muscle group, don’t hurry to finish the exercise.
Guided imagery or visualization can be used as relaxation technique and can be combined with progressive muscle relaxation. The main aim of this technique is to reduce stress with the use of mental images. It is important to activate all senses, not use images with other people and to choose images that make you feel relaxed. Being in a quiet place is important for beginners.
- Close your eyes
- Try not to think everyday problems.
- Bring in your mind the image you prefer.
- Picture it as vividly as possible— see, hear, smell, taste and feel. Focus on the details of your picture
For example, if you are thinking walking on a beach early in the morning:
- Imaging the colors of the sky, the sea and the beach
- There is a wooden house behind you, focus on details
- You hear sea birds flying over
- You hear the waves
- You feel the breeze
- You smell the sea and humidity
- You feel the sand as you walk bare footed
At the beginning it might be difficult to find your favourite image and concentrate on the details, but after practicing you will realise how easy will be to relax as soon as you bring this picture in your mind after a stressful event.
Yoga is well known for reducing stress, combines breathing techniques and mediation, moving and stationary poses. Yoga improves flexibility, strength and stamina. Yoga classes are very popular and you can easily add this activity in your time schedule, a yoga instructor might be able to train you personally.
Tai chi is another exercise that promotes relaxation, concentration and is characterised by synchronized slow movement and is a low impact exercise with a lot of older people preferring this method of exercise. We all have encountered groups of people practicing in a park, moving synchronised like dancing. You can choose to work out in a group, and as soon as you learn basic movements you can practice at home..
There are plenty videos online helping you start with Yoga and Tai Chi, if you don’t have time to attend classes.
Apart from Yoga and Tai Chi, there are many other types of physical exercise that helps you reduce stress (link with physical exercise section).