There is no doubt that the human body has a great capacity to adapt to situations in which it is appropriate to take action.
The hormones that are secreted by the endocrine system and the way our brain interprets which are the moments when we have to move fast make that we can face stressful situations with a good performance.
However, our everyday life sometimes makes us carry too much responsibility and inoculates us with too high a dose of anxiety. That is why it is useful to know some relaxation techniques for stress .
When should we use relaxation techniques?
The first thing we must take into account when we consider introducing relaxation techniques into our lives is that, unlike the use of psychotropic drugs, relaxation exercises do not have side effects . Their power and effectiveness in combating anxiety is based on self-regulation , that is, the possibility of carrying out actions through which we modify the way in which the chemical substances that our body generates naturally are secreted.
Therefore, relaxation techniques are an intelligent way of taking advantage of the mechanics that govern the human body , instead of “cheating” by introducing substances into it in the form of injections or pills. Thus, the only cost of using relaxation exercises is some time and minimal effort.
Fighting much more than stress
In fact, these anti-stress techniques can be used even when we don’t feel stressed, as they can be introduced into our daily routine simply to prevent the onset of anxiety problems and, why not, to make us feel better and more rested.
But relaxation techniques don’t have to be used when we experience stress. It should be clear that stress is natural and can be present at such low levels that it is actually useful to us. There is a reason for this, called eustress, or positive stress.
When it is convenient to use the resource of relaxation exercises is when we notice that the stress levels are high enough and are maintained enough in time to have a negative impact on our quality of life.
Some examples of when to use them :
- When we’ve been noticing an anxiety that gives us problems for several days.
- When we go through a stage of grief or loss.
- When experiencing job stress or Burnout Syndrome.
- When stress causes us to engage in obsessive behaviors, such as biting our nails or touching our hair all the time (trichotillomania)
- At times when we feel harassed in some way (mobbing), conflicts with neighbours, etc. Of course, relaxation techniques must be accompanied by measures to stop this harassment.
- In stages where there is a bad family climate or problems in the couple’s relationship.
- When the amount of tasks and responsibilities overwhelms us, or when we have problems in reconciling professional and personal life.
The benefits of relaxation exercises
The advantages of using relaxation techniques depend, in part, on the type of exercises we use. However, in general terms, the benefits we will get from putting relaxation techniques into our lives are the following :
- They lead to a sense of well-being.
- They give us more control over what happens in our bodies.
- They lower the blood pressure.
- It helps us break the vicious circle of negative thoughts.
- They make our self-esteem better.
- They help us feel more prepared to face new situations.
- They reduce the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in our blood.
- They help us get to sleep.
- They reduce muscle tension.
- Some techniques improve the blood supply to large muscle groups.
Day-to-day relaxation (and step-by-step)
These are relaxation techniques that you can use every day, making them part of your routine . As they are simple and easy to follow, you can learn them on your own after several weeks of practice, although you should know that there is also the possibility of learning other more complex training proposals for which you would need an instructor who is physically by your side when you go to do them.
The best times to perform these relaxation techniques are right after you wake up or before you go to sleep. Remember that it is best to do them in quiet, secluded places and you should wear comfortable clothes while following these steps.
1. Breathing with the diaphragm
Many times, simply changing the way we breathe will trigger a series of processes in our body that will significantly decrease anxiety. This, added to the fact that relaxation techniques related to breathing are very easy to perform, makes diaphragmatic breathing an ideal exercise to start with .
The aim of this technique is to make you learn to pay attention to your breathing and train yourself to get to breathe optimally, making the abdomen more prominent than the chest.
The steps to follow to perform this technique are the following:
- Lie down on a flat surface facing upwards and maintain a straight posture , but do not contract your muscles. You can also sit on a chair making your thighs parallel and at a 90 degree angle to the trunk.
- Put the palm of one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen . For 20 seconds, direct your attention to how your breathing makes these two areas move.
- The fact that the chest moves much more than the abdomen is a sign of shallow breathing , which often causes us to lack oxygen even though we are not aware of it.
- For a minimum of 3 minutes, you should guide your breathing to make the hand resting on the abdomen move more than the one on the chest. To achieve this, inhale deeply through your nose for about 5 seconds and hold the air in the belly area for a couple of seconds. Then, exhale through your mouth for another 5 seconds.
There are many ways to perform meditation, but here you can see an especially easy variant .
For this relaxation technique you will need to sit (rather than lie down) in a comfortable chair and start following the steps described in the diaphragm breathing exercise. As you direct your attention to the breath, you should mentally recite a phrase such as “I relax,” “I calm down,” or some other phrase that evokes the action of leaving anxiety behind. You can recite this phrase at the end of each exhalation.
Remember, too, that meditation can offer you many other benefits.
3. Guided imagery
This relaxation technique borrows from the method followed in diaphragmatic breathing but, in this case, your attention will be directed towards an imagined scenario that conveys peace and calm . Therefore, when you want to approach it, it is better that you have practiced diaphragmatic breathing before, which is an easier exercise, although this relaxation technique is also simple.
The steps to follow are as follows:
- Use the first minute to follow the instructions given for diaphragmatic breathing . You can play relaxing music in the background, or use recordings with rain sound.
- With your eyes closed, imagine a natural environment that helps you to be relaxed , like a garden full of flowers. Try to make this image very vivid and detailed, so that it captures all your attention while you continue to breathe deeply.
- Go through the imagined environment and explore it with all your senses . Lose yourself in every detail of this scene: the colors of a flower, the touch of the leaves, the rays of the sun on the horizon, the sound of the birds, etc. Move slowly around the stage as if you had a route fixed by some rails.
- After a few minutes, make this environment slowly fade away while your attention gradually returns to your breathing . When none of this image remains, open your eyes and give the exercise a rest.
4. Quick relaxation exercise
This relaxation technique is extremely simple and is meant to be used several times a day . It basically consists of taking three or four deep breaths in a row every time you see an object of your choice, such as a flower vase in your living room or a decorative figurine, while you notice how all your muscles relax.
Although this exercise is very short, it is important that you focus your attention on your breathing during the process and do not get distracted. You can also imagine a relaxing image (like a lonely beach or a tree in a garden) while you do it.
5. Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation
This relaxation technique was developed by the American doctor Edmund Jacobson in the first half of the 20th century, and is still widely used today.
It consists of progressively relaxing the muscle groups of the body , as if it were the journey of a small imaginary train. It is a very useful exercise to reduce anxiety related to physical processes such as sport or following strict schedules. However, doing it will take you longer than the rest, so you should make sure that you have some time when no one is going to bother you.
To perform this relaxation technique, follow these steps :
- Lie down or sit down in a comfortable place , making your legs and arms parallel. If you decide to sit, make sure that your palms rest on your thighs. You can use recordings with relaxing sounds. Close your eyes.
- Take a few seconds to take a deep breath with your diaphragm.
- Concentrate on the sensations that your right foot produces . Visualize it through your imagination and, when you notice that all your attention is on it, contract strongly the muscles of that part of your body making your foot tense for 5 seconds.
- It makes all the muscles in the foot completely relaxed again . Focus your attention on the feeling of calm that part of your body gives you for about 20 seconds.
- Repeat this process with your other foot , the calves and thighs of each leg, your abdomen, pectorals, arms, hands, back, neck, jaw, face and scalp.
- Take a deep breath for 20 seconds and open your eyes.
Mindfulness is becoming very popular because of the ease with which it can be adapted to various situations and, although practicing it offers many advantages, it can also be an excellent relaxation technique.
In this article on Mindfulness exercises you can learn about several easy-to-follow exercise suggestions.