Relaxation techniques: Try these steps to lower stress

Relaxation techniques can lower stress symptoms and help you enjoy a better quality of life, especially if you have an illness. Explore relaxation techniques you can do by yourself.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

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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 lessens the stress effects on your mind and body. Using ways to relax can help you cope with everyday stress. And these options can help with long-term stress or stress related to many health problems, such as heart disease and pain.

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

Find simple ways to relax and get started on de-stressing your life and improving your health and overall well-being.

The benefits of relaxation techniques

When faced with everyday jobs and tasks or the demands of an illness, relaxation techniques may not be a main concern in your life. But that means you might miss out on how relaxation can benefit your health.

Relaxation techniques can:

  • Slow heart rate.
  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Slow breathing rate.
  • Improve digestion.
  • Control blood sugar levels.
  • Lessen activity of stress hormones.
  • Increase blood flow to major muscles.
  • Ease muscle tension and chronic pain.
  • Improve focus and mood.
  • Improve sleep quality.
  • Lower fatigue.
  • Lessen anger and frustration.
  • Boost confidence to handle problems.

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

  • Think positively.
  • Find humor.
  • Solve problems.
  • Manage time and priorities.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Spend time outside.
  • Reach out to supportive family and friends.

Types of relaxation techniques

Complementary and integrative health specialists, mental health professionals and other healthcare professionals can teach many relaxation techniques. But you also can learn some on your own.

Relaxation techniques generally involve focus and awareness. You focus your attention on something that is calming and raise awareness of your body. It doesn't matter which technique you use. What matters is that you find ways to relax to gain the benefits.

Relaxation techniques include:

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

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

  • Progressive muscle relaxation. In progressive muscle relaxation, 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 type of progressive muscle relaxation, you start to tense and relax the muscles in your toes. You gradually work your way up to your neck and head. This is best done in a quiet area without interruptions. You also can 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 visualization, you may form mental pictures to take a visual journey to a peaceful, calming place or situation.

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

    You may want to close your eyes and 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 ways your body reacts to stress. Once you know what the stress response feels like, you can try to do a relaxation technique as soon as you start to feel stress symptoms. This can prevent stress from getting out of control and lowering 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 try relaxation techniques become yet another stressor.

If one relaxation technique doesn't work for you, try another one. If none of your efforts at lessening your stress seems to work, talk to your healthcare professional about other options.

Also, remember that some people, especially those with serious mental health issues and a history of abuse or trauma, may have feelings of emotional discomfort during some relaxation techniques. Although this is rare, if you have emotional discomfort during relaxation techniques, stop what you're doing. Talk to your healthcare professional or a mental health professional.

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Jan. 24, 2024 See more In-depth