7 Effective Relaxation Techniques to Manage Stress & Anxiety

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Relaxation techniques are helpful strategies that you can implement to reduce stress and anxiety. For some, these techniques may be useful for managing unpleasant symptoms associated with panic attacks.

Relaxation techniques work by helping our body to manage the fight-or-flight response of our sympathetic nervous system. When this system is triggered it sends a signal to our brain that we’re in danger when in fact we may just be sitting on our couch.

Relaxation techniques work by helping our body to manage the fight-or-flight response of our sympathetic nervous system.

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Relaxation techniques have a calming effect on the body because they promote a physiological transition from our “fight or flight” state to our “rest and digest” state. As a result, anxiety and uncomfortable physical symptoms such as rapid heart rate, shallow breathing, perspiration or hot flashes, and negative and intrusive thoughts gradually subside.

It’s important to practice these relaxation techniques even when you are not feeling particularly anxious in order to get the most benefit. This helps re-train our brain and body back to a ‘baseline’ state that’s calm and not flooded with cortisol.

There is no single “best” technique. The best relaxation technique is simply the one that you’ve discovered works best for you, so choose one that appeals to you and can be easily incorporated into your lifestyle.

Try to practice some of these for several minutes each day if you can. By establishing this habit, you’ll have your go-to set of techniques ready to use whenever panic or anxiety arise.

1. Guided meditation

Guided meditation is clear, and simple. Most people feel overwhelmed when they’re faced with the prospect of having to just sit down and relax so this form of meditation can provide structure for people who feel like they need guidance and focus.

Additionally, there is something very powerful and almost primal about listening to a soothing, caring, and reassuring voice that makes us feel less alone. It’s like having the maternal or paternal voice inside our heads that we needed growing up. Having a benevolent voice guiding you shifts you into a relaxed state where you are in a more receptive mode.

This guided tutorial style also allows you to adopt more of a student role with the guided voice being your psycho-spiritual teacher.

There is something very powerful and almost primal about listening to a soothing, caring, and reassuring voice that makes us feel less alone.
relaxation and meditation

2. Envision yourself radiating good energy

This imaginative relaxation technique requires you to be creative and imagine yourself when you are most safe, self-assured, charismatic, and in a state of flow with a better version of yourself.

Start by envisioning the person that you would have to be–the things you would have to say, the way you would have to present yourself, how you treat people–and conjure up the personality type you would need to embody in order to experience this life.

As you do this, you spend time breathing in this new image of yourself and expanding into this version of yourself so that this energy pattern becomes more of your new normal. It’s almost as if you’re imprinting this onto your psyche.

 

The best relaxation technique is the one that you use, so choose one that appeals to you and can be easily incorporated into your lifestyle.

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3. Pick-a-mantra

Personal mantras are an excellent way to focus on and reaffirm relaxing emotional experiences. Start by picking some kind of focus affirmation that you can proclaim as your own and reaffirm it within yourself. Pick one that resonates and feels most natural to you.

You have your own unique voice and innate wisdom, so use this to create your own special recipe. Whatever combination of words feels most right to you, then that’s the mantra that you should be rehearsing in your mind.

Some of my favorites during times of stress are statements like “Release,” “Relax,” “Life starts now,” “Everything I need already exists within me,” and “Life flows in me and through me and out into the world.”

Your mantra or affirmation should evolve and expand over time to fit what is really best suited for you in any given moment and when confronted with any given circumstance.

muscle relaxation
Try when you’re in bed to tense up your body for 10 seconds and then relax it. You can also add some visualization to deepen the effects of this exercise. Envision yourself physically releasing or letting go in a safe or beautiful place.

4. Progressive muscle relaxation

There’s a few ways you can use progressive muscle relaxation as an effective relaxation technique.

One way is to start at your toes and progressively work your way up by tensing and then releasing each muscle group in your body: from your toes to your calves, to your thighs, to your midsection, your trunk up into your chest, your arms, fingers, neck and finally in your face and the crown of your head.

A lot of people hold tension in various parts of their body and so if you can deliberately focus your attention on where your muscles are constricted or rigid, you can slowly tense and relax these muscle groups so you enter into a more relaxed state.

Try when you’re in bed to tense up your body for 10 seconds and then relax it. You can also add some visualization to deepen the effects of this exercise. Envision yourself physically releasing or letting go in a safe or beautiful place.

In essence, you can trick your brain into being happy, lower your heart rate, increase serotonin and endorphin levels, and boost your health.

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5. Simply smiling can enhance your mood

Believe it or not, the simple act of smiling can create a neurological cascade of positive feelings. In essence, you can trick your brain into being happy, lower your heart rate, increase serotonin and endorphin levels, and boost your health, even if it is a “forced” smile.

We’re not endorsing “faking it till you make it”—that’s a form of denial. We never want to be in denial. That being said, smiling is an easy way to create a counterbalance to stress and can shift your energy in stressful moments.

Try and spend 30-60 seconds gently smiling every morning and throughout your day to supercharge your mood.

Smiling is an easy way to create a counterbalance to stress and can shift your energy in stressful moments.
smiling

6. Controlled breath work is a gamechanger

When we are stressed, our breathing slows and becomes shallow. And when we are relaxed, our breathing is deep and restorative. Luckily, you have the power to move out of this distress pattern more quickly if you harness the power of your breath.

Controlled breathing exercises can drastically reduce the stress hormones and lactic acid flowing in your body, lower your blood pressure and heart rate, nudge blood flow back into equilibrium, improve immune functioning, and increase feelings of wellbeing.

By consciously moving your breathing from your chest to your abdominal areas, breathing using the diaphragm, you move the nervous system into parasympathetic mode, you give yourself a chance to just “relax”.

7. Therapy

Therapy can help you develop each of these practices By simply giving yourself that 45 minutes or an hour to be with another human being who is interested and invested in you, and is there to reassure you that, in spite of all of the life’s stress and anxiety, that you got this.

Whether through visualization exercises or physiological methods to help you balance your sympathetic nervous system, these relaxation techniques can help you better manage your stress and anxiety. Try to implement a variety of these practical relaxation techniques and notice the difference in how you feel afterwards.

Your Turn: What techniques do you use to relax and relieve anxiety? Let me know in the comments below!

Dr. Logan Jones

Dr. Logan Jones is a Psychologist and Founder of Clarity Therapy. Sign up for his free 30 Days of Gratitude email series and follow him on Instagram at @drloganjones.

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