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How to Manage Stress? – Relaxation Techniques

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Life is full of stress and sometimes stress can be devastating and lead to chronic mental conditions like anxiety and depression. However, there are ways to calm down!

Stress is a feeling of physical or emotional tension- the way the body responds to demands or challenges. It can be short-lived, chronic, or episodic. It can arise from any life event, a sudden negative thought or experience, a chronic illness, or normal daily routine activities just as not being able to meet your deadline, the death of your loved one, a broken relationship, or even an upcoming exam. It can range in its severity and no matter what causes stress, it can flood the stressed body with cortisol hormone. It would make the heart pound, the muscle tense, and the breathing much faster. [1, 3]

One approach to managing stress and improving general health is to use relaxation techniques that invoke a “relaxation response.” This response is a state of profound rest that can be brought forth by different means. With regular practice of relaxation techniques for even a few minutes in a day, a stressed person can build their reserve of inner calm to dip into as and when the need arises. It has been noted that relaxation techniques can help lower blood pressure, slow down heart and respiration rate, relieve muscle tension, reduce chronic pain, decrease stress hormones, and improve sleep quality. [2, 3]

Sounds relaxing? Let’s learn about some approaches that are based on scientific observation and experiences which could work best for one to power down and de-stress. One can try out these relaxation techniques one at a time or practice a few of them together. Everyone cannot go stress-free by practicing the same set of relaxation techniques. [1]

Some Relaxation Techniques To Manage Stress

1. Breathing Exercises
This is one of the simplest, most powerful stress reduction practices wherein people are asked to only focus on their breathing moments. It involves lying down or sitting still in a quiet place with one hand on the stomach and another over the heart; taking long, slow, deep breaths through the nose and slowly exhaling either through the nose or mouth. It is also called belly or abdominal breathing. Throughout the inhalation and exhalation process, people must not get distracted by their thoughts and sensations rather they must focus on their body more positively. However, this relaxation technique cannot work for stressed people who have heart failure or respiratory illnesses- in short, any kind of breathing difficulty. [1, 2, 3]

2. Mindfulness and Mantra Meditation
Mindfulness is an age-old form of meditation that makes people aware of what’s happening around them in their present moment. It boosts them to focus on their mind and body without drifting into issues about the past or future. On the other side, mantra meditation help people focus on their thoughts and body by placing all their attention on a single target which could be a mantra, a phrase, a prayer, or a candle flame. It needs practice to silently repeat focusing on the target while practicing breathing focus. Don’t get disheartened in the first 2 weeks as it’s normal for the mind to continue to chatter and distract. [1]

3. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
It involves slowly tensing and relaxing each group of muscles present in the entire body. It may be started with tensing of toes muscles for 5 seconds and then relax for 30 seconds followed by tightening and relaxing of new muscle group each time until all muscles are done from toe to the neck and head or started with the head and face muscles and worked all the way down. It can be performed along with guided imagery and breathing exercises. People having heart disease must consult a doctor before starting with this relaxation technique. [2]

4. Guided Imagery or Visualization Practice
It is a type of meditation that involves the usage of mind power and senses to shift all focus to a peaceful event or time like conjuring up soothing experiences, scenes, or places in the mind. There are many free apps and online recordings of calming sounds if needed. With guided visualization, people can reinforce a positive vision of themselves. It may be difficult for people who have trouble creating mental images or who have intrusive thoughts. [1, 2, 3]

5. Body Scan
In this technique, progressive muscle relaxation and focused breathing are blended and carried out. After a few minutes of doing breathing exercises, people start focusing on one group of muscles at a time and mentally release any physical tension build-up there. This is not of much use for people who had recent surgery affecting their figure or other difficulties with body image. [3]

6. Yoga, Tai Chi, And Qigong
These are ancient, gentle forms of exercises that combine rhythmic breathing with different flowing body movements, postures, or stretches. They offer mental focus that can help people distract themselves from their racing thoughts and even provide flexibility and balance. However, they might be challenging for people with a sedentary lifestyle, health issues, or a disabling, painful condition. [2, 3]

7. Autogenic Training
In this relaxation practice, people focus on warmth feeling and heaviness in their different body parts. Then, they repeat silently pleasant statements or words for each of their body parts. It helps create feelings of both physical and emotional relaxation. [1]

8. Others
Many de-stressing therapies are worth a try, including:

  • Massage therapy- including different massages such as Shiatsu, Swedish, sports, or others
  • Music therapy- involves the use of music by a therapist to accomplish health goals
  • Biofeedback- involves measuring body functions and helps in controlling them
  • Hydrotherapy-including steam baths, compression, and body soaking
  • Self-hypnosis- wherein a practitioner teaches the person to relax when he/she hears a phrase or receives a non-spoke cue
  • Art therapy- uses art forms to improve one’s physical, emotional, and mental wellness
  • Aromatherapy-using certain essential oils. [1]
  • Detox therapy that helps detox the body and make the body feel relaxed.

References:

  1. https://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/blissing-out-10-relaxation-techniques-reduce-stress-spot#1
  2. https://www.painscale.com/article/relaxation-techniques-for-stress-management
  3. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/six-relaxation-techniques-to-reduce-stress

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