When we feel anxious or stressed, our body’s natural response is to increase our breathing rate, blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, sweating, state of mental arousal and adrenaline flow.
Since we don’t need these survival responses a lot of the time, relaxation helps to decrease that adrenaline response, and let go of the physical and mental tension. Practicing any one of numerous relaxation techniques can help us unwind and bring our tensions and anxiety under control. Learning to relax can take practice, as with any new skill.
Healthy living is a matter of balance. Relaxation is part of the balancing process along with eating healthily, being physically active and handling stress appropriately.
- Reduce tiredness – by managing everyday life without excessive tension
- Improve performance – at work, school or sports through self awareness and control of tension
- Reduce pain – that results from tension (ie. headaches, backaches) and raises your pain threshold
- Cope with stress – by reducing the effects of stress and breathing effectively
- Improve sleep – by allowing you to be calm and peaceful
- Improve self-confidence – by increasing your self-awareness and ability to cope with daily life
Breathing and Relaxation
Exhaling (or breathing out) releases tension in the chest muscles and allows all muscles to release tension more easily. Breathing is far more effective when we use our diaphragms, rather than chest muscles. Sit comfortably in a chair and place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen (hand on navel). Take two or three fairly large breaths. Which hand moves first and which moves most? Practice so that the lower hand on your abdomen moves rather than the one on your chest. People often think that their tummy goes in when they breathe in – but the reverse should be the case.
When you feel tense or are trying to relax, breathe out a little more slowly and more deeply, noticing a short pause before the in-breath takes over (don’t exaggerate the in-breath, just let it happen). It may be useful to count slowly or prolong a word such as “one” or “peace” to help elongate the out-breath a little (to yourself or out loud).
Simple Breathing Exercise
A simple breathing exercise can be particularly beneficial at stressful times, but also may help throughout the day.
Take a deep, slow breath in and hold it for 5 seconds. Feel your abdomen expand as you do this. Breathe out slowly, to a count of 5. Breathe in again, make every breath slow and steady and exactly the same. As you breathe out, concentrate on expelling ALL the air out of your lungs. If you’re alone, make a noise like “whoo” as you do this so you feel the air going out. Keep the out-breath going for as long as you can. Relax for a few seconds before you inhale again.
There are various ways to achieve relaxation; most use breath control in some way. Regardless of the method you choose, regular practice will help. Some examples are:
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation – tense/relax muscles
- Guided imagery or visualization
- Autogenic training (mental exercises linking body and mind to cause relaxation)
- Bio Feedback (self-regulating bodily functions like slowing heart rate)
- Physical activity
- Tai Chi
If you want to develop skills to improve in the area of relaxation, schedule an appointment with an iTherapy counselor today.