We all struggle with feelings of overwhelm and anxiety from time to time. If you experience these feelings often, you’ve likely been told to ‘relax’ or ‘calm down,’ but this is easier said than done. Anxiety disorders are at the top of the list of the most common mental health conditions in the US, where many people struggle with chronic stress.
This, in turn, increases the risk of health conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Mental health practitioners recommend relaxation techniques that promote calmness to prevent stress from exacerbating.
What Are Relaxation Techniques?
Based on the definition by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, they’re practices that activate the body’s natural relaxation response. It’s the opposite of your body’s stress response and works by slowing your breathing, reducing your heart rate, and lowering your blood pressure.
Relaxation Techniques as Part of Holistic Therapy
These days, relaxation techniques including those featured in breathwork events, are taught and recommended in a holistic treatment program. Instead of a single therapeutic approach, holistic therapy combines different disciplines. Because of its flexibility can be tailored to the client’s needs, increasing the probability of positive outcomes.
Since relaxation techniques are highly effective, they’re used in various holistic treatment plans, like those at United Recovery. When applied, they complement evidence-based treatments such as psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy. Of course, these practices are suitable for anyone struggling to keep calm.
All relaxation techniques include the component of deep breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, and it’s highly effective. It’s a simple and easy-to-learn practice you can try anywhere to alleviate stress levels.
To keep track of inhaling and exhaling, keep one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Sit upright in a comfortable position and inhale through your nose so that you feel your stomach rise. When it’s time to exhale through your mouth, try releasing as much air as possible, contracting the abdominal muscles as you do so.
Body Scan Meditation
After you spend some time deep breathing, you can try body scan meditation. This involves focusing on a single part of your body and trying to release any tension you feel there. Then, gradually move to a different part of your body and focus on the sensations you feel. Repeat this until you complete ‘scanning’ your entire body.
Yoga involves a series of still and moving poses that you pair with rhythmic breathing. Because yoga poses require you to maintain a specific posture, the physical aspect allows you to maintain mental focus. This makes it an effective distraction from racing thoughts while improving your body’s balance and flexibility.
Of course, keep in mind that there are different types of yoga poses, with some more complex and challenging than others. If you’re interested in practicing yoga as a relaxation technique, it’s best to consult a professional for guidance and start with simpler poses.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
For this technique, you systematically contract and relax each muscle group in your body. By practicing it consistently, you’ll know what tension and relaxation feel like. When you know what muscle tension feels like, you can try relaxing your muscles as soon as you feel them become tense.
Start by taking a few deep breaths. Then, focus on one muscle group, such as your foot, and how it feels. Contract the muscles in your foot, squeezing them as tight as you can before relaxing them. As you feel the tension, leave that specific muscle group, take a few deep breaths, and repeat this with your other foot, calves, thighs, arms, and other muscles.
With the guided imagery technique, you’ll visualize soothing experiences to relax and focus. Maybe it’s a relaxing beach you visited while on vacation or a view of the sun setting on the horizon. There are plenty of examples, but you should choose a scene that allows you to feel at peace.
You can try it on your own or get help from an audio or application to guide you. Similarly, you can try visualizing a soothing place in silence or use calming sounds like rain or waves crashing on the beach.
In mindfulness meditation, you typically sit upright, but you can practice it while walking, too. The purpose of mindfulness is to experience the present moment without judgment. Of course, this is easier said than done when sitting still – especially if you have intrusive thoughts.
While walking, focus on the rhythm of your deep breaths and the movement of your feet. Think of how you put one foot in front of another and how your feet feel on the ground. These sensations bring you back to the present so you’re no longer consumed by other thoughts.
Trying Biofeedback Therapy
If you’re not sure about which relaxation techniques will work for you, try biofeedback therapy. It focuses on the mind-body connection and allows you to monitor your body’s functions, such as your heart rate and breathing. Then, depending on the feedback you get, your therapist will recommend making certain changes to bring those levels back to normal.
For instance, they’ll recommend that you change your posture or your position. Or they’ll ask you to change your breathing patterns and relax your muscles. Biofeedback therapy uses a combination of different relaxation techniques while allowing you to see results in real-time.
Seeing how these techniques reduce your stress levels will reinforce you to try them the next time you’re overwhelmed. Most therapists recommend biofeedback therapy to practice these techniques so you automatically start taking deep breaths when faced with a stressful situation.
Practicing relaxation techniques is a non-invasive way to calm your body by activating its natural relaxation response. Their efficacy is why many mental health specialists recommend them as part of the treatment process. Some of the common ones include deep breathing, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, and body scan.