We all face stressful situations throughout our life, ranging from small everyday annoyances to more serious and profound concerns. Regardless of what the cause is, stress makes us succubus to our own body: the heartbeat accelerates, breathing becomes more difficult and the muscles stiffen.
This so-called “stress response” is a normal reaction to threatening situations, refined since prehistoric times to help us survive looming threats, such as sudden attacks or natural disasters. Today we rarely face these physical dangers, but difficult situations in daily life can trigger the same response. In short, many factors can contribute to increasing our levels of anxiety and stress with negative repercussions on your daily life and, in the long run, also on physical and mental health.
In this article we will discover 4 relaxation techniques that can help you reduce daily stress, better deal with the most insidious moments of the day and ensure lasting well-being.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Have you ever had back pain or neck pain when you are anxious or stressed? One of the many ways your body responds to stress is muscle tension. Progressive muscle relaxation is a method that helps relieve this tension.
In progressive muscle relaxation, you stretch a group of muscles as you inhale and relax them as you exhale, working on the different muscle groups in a certain order.
When your body is physically relaxed, you cannot feel anxious. Practicing progressive muscle relaxation for a few weeks will help you improve this ability and over time you will be able to use this method to relieve stress effectively.
The first few times it can be useful to listen to an audio until you have memorized all the muscle groups in order.
If you have trouble falling asleep, this method can also help you with your insomnia problems.
Find a quiet, distraction-free place. Lie on the floor or sit on a chair, loosen tight clothing and remove glasses and jewelry. Place your hands on your lap or on the armrests of the chair. Take a few slow, regular breaths. If you haven’t already done so, take a few minutes to practice diaphragmatic breathing.
Now focus your attention on the following areas, being careful to leave the rest of the body relaxed:
Forehead: Arches the muscles of the forehead, as if to assume a frowning expression, holding them for 15 seconds. Feel your muscles getting tense. Then, slowly release the tension as you count for 30 seconds. Note the difference and the feeling of relaxation. Continue to release tension until your forehead feels completely relaxed. As you do this, breathe slowly and evenly.
Jaw: Tense the jaw muscles, holding them for 15 seconds. Then slowly release the tension, counting for 30 seconds. Note the feeling of relaxation and continue to breathe slowly.
Neck and shoulders: Increases the tension of the neck and shoulders, lifting them towards the ears and keeping them in this position for 15 seconds. Then slowly release the tension as you count for 30 seconds.
Arms and hands: Slowly close both hands in the fists. Bring your fists to your chest and hold them for 15 seconds, tightening as tight as possible. Then slowly release your fists and bring your arms out as you count for 30 seconds. Note the feeling of relaxation.
Buttocks: Slowly increases the muscle tension of the buttocks for 15 seconds. Then slowly release the tension for 30 seconds.
Legs: Gradually increases tension in the quadriceps and calves for 15 seconds. Tighten your muscles as hard as you can. Then gently release the tension for 30 seconds. Note the tension that melts and the feeling of relaxation that surrounds your body.
Feet: Slowly increases the tension in the feet and toes, arching the plant as if to close the feet in a fist. Tighten your muscles as much as possible. Then slowly release the tension as you count for 30 seconds.
Enjoy the feeling of relaxation that runs through your body. Continue to breathe slowly and evenly.
To eradicate anxiety and stress from our lives there is nothing better than trying to change the way we perceive things: some awareness exercise, or “Mindfulness” in English, can help you change the way you deal with everyday problems, teaching you to see the beauty in the banal, to take the small nuisances for what they really are, to appreciate the silence and enjoy the present moment. You could discover a whole new world that has always surrounded you.
Mindfulness has been used in many scientific studies, which have recorded in practitioners an increase in the activity of the prefrontal cerebral cortex (the area of the brain where we record positive emotions). Practicing mindfulness helps us to regulate emotions, to be more calm and focused and to improve the quality of sleep.
Using awareness to stay focused on the present may seem simple, but it takes practice to reap the full benefits. When you start practicing for the first time, you will likely find that your attention continues to return to your anxieties and thoughts. But don’t be discouraged. Whenever you return your attention to the present, you are reinforcing a new mental habit that can help you get rid of worries about the past or stress about the future.
You can explore this mindfulness exercises to integrate this practice into your days:
Download these FREE powerful mp3 tracks to start meditating
Autogenic training is a very popular relaxation technique, developed by Johannes Schultz at the beginning of the last century, which includes six guided exercises.
This training, designed to create a deep sensation of relaxation, consists of an auto-suggestion that leads us to perceive a sensation of warmth and heaviness throughout the body, generating a muscular relaxation that induces physical and mental rest.
Autogenic training was developed as a relaxation technique to be practiced independently, but it is also often used in psychotherapy sessions for anxiety management. Conditions such as social anxiety disorder, general anxiety disorder, depression and insomnia can be mitigated through this training. Autogenic training is also helpful in managing daily stress and can help during panic attacks.
You can read the detailed instructions on the six exercises in our article dedicated to autogenic training.
Visualization is a meditation technique that consists in evoking relaxing scenes, places or experiences in your mind to help you relax and concentrate. Guided images can help you strengthen a positive vision of yourself, but it can be a difficult exercise for those who have intrusive thoughts or find it difficult to evoke mental images.
You can practice viewing alone or with audio to guide you through the images. You can also choose to silently view or use relaxing music or nature sounds to help you evoke calming scenarios.
Here is a simple visualization exercise that you can perform on your own.
Close your eyes and imagine a place that relaxes you: it can be an invented scenario, or a place where you really have been that has given you feelings of peace and tranquility. Imagine it as vividly as possible: you have to materialize in your mind everything you see, hear, smell, taste and touch. Basically involve all five senses.
Observing it through the eyes of the mind as you would do with a photograph is not enough. Visualization works best if you incorporate as many sensory details as possible. For example, if you are thinking of a pier on a mountain lake:
Watch the sun set over the water
Listen to the birds sing
Smell the pines
Feel the fresh water on your feet
Taste the fresh and clean air
Enjoy the feeling of your worries drifting away as you explore your place. When you are ready, gently open your eyes and return to the present. Don’t worry if you sometimes lose track of where you are during a viewing session. It is perfectly normal. You may also experience sensations of heaviness in the limbs, muscle twitches or yawns. Again, these are normal answers.
We explored 4 different relaxation techniques that require no expense, external help or special equipment. You can run them independently wherever you are.
As trivial as it may sound, don’t forget about the most common activities that can relax you: a walk in the woods, a run, any kind of manual or intellectual hobby. Anxiety and stress increase if you do not face them daily, so it is important to act for our own well-being and for those who live with us.