When you find yourself overwhelmed with stress (as many of us do at times), there are a number of techniques you can use to help you relax and reduce your mind and body's negative responses that may hinder your ability to enjoy a better quality of life.
According to health specialists at the Mayo Clinic, relaxation isn't just about peace of mind or enjoying a hobby. It's a process that can help lighten the load of life's challenges on your mind and body. Some of the health benefits of practicing these techniques include:
Physical benefits - slower heart rate, lower blood pressure, slower breathing rate, less need for oxygen, an increase of blood flow to major muscles, reduced muscle tension
Overall health and lifestyle benefits - fewer physical symptoms of stress (headaches, back pain), fewer emotional responses (anger, frustration), more energy, improved concentration, greater ability to handle problems, more efficiency in everyday activities
Many health professionals, from traditional and alternative medicine practitioners to physicians and psychotherapists, can teach you the basics of common relaxation techniques, but you can also learn some on your own. These techniques usually involve focusing your attention on something calming and becoming more aware of your body.
There are three basic relaxation techniques to choose from. They include:
Autogenic relaxation - Referring to something that comes from within you, the autogenic relaxation technique uses visual imagery and body awareness to reduce stress. It involves repeating words or suggestions in your mind to help you relax and reduce muscle tension. Try to imagine a peaceful place and focus on controlling your breathing and slowing your heart rate. Slowly relax your arms and legs one at a time until your whole body is in a state of relaxation.
Progressive muscle relaxation - This technique focuses on relaxing each muscle group in your body, encouraging you to focus on the difference between muscle tension and relaxation, and become more aware of physical sensations. Start at one end of your body by tensing and relaxing the muscles in your toes first, followed by the muscles in your ankles and calves, and slowly work your way up. Tense each muscle group for at least five seconds, relax for 30 seconds, and repeat.
Visualization - While practicing the technique of visualization, you imagine a peaceful, calming place or situation in order to take a "visual journey." The best kind of visual journey involves all of the senses, from sights and smells to sounds and textures, so be creative. If spending time at the beach is something that relaxes you, imagine the sound of the waves against the shore, the smell of salt water, and the warmth of the sun on your skin. Close your eyes, wear comfortable clothing, and sit in a quiet place. These things will help you reach complete relaxation during your visualization.
There are other relaxation techniques that you may be more familiar with, such as yoga, tai chi, guided meditation, hypnosis, and massage, to name a few. No matter which technique you choose, however, relaxation techniques are skills that will improve with practice. Use your chosen technique regularly and often to reduce the negative impact of stress on your mind and body.