Actively learning how to relax is an essential part of managing our stress.
And while stress may sometimes feel unavoidable, learning how to trigger our body's relaxation response helps counteract some of its harmful effects.
Consciously making a plan to relax might seem a bit over the top, but knowing that you can't function effectively if you've got nothing left in the tank might make you think again.
Learning how to relax is more than taking time to flop on the sofa, go to the gym or watch the latest movie.
It's about creating a quiet space for your mind by removing yourself from everyday thought.
In this practical guide we provide you with some tried and tested techniques to help you relax wherever and whenever you want.
Learn controlled breathing
Controlled breathing can promote feelings of calm and relaxation and most breathing techniques can be used whether you are at your desk, sitting at home or just about anywhere.
Breathe in, breathe out
Take a single breath in, focusing on the sensations you are feeling - the air drawn in through your nose, your chest rising, your breath out, your chest falling. All the time let your mind recognise your body's movements, only concentrating on what you are feeling in that moment. As thoughts drift in, let them come but let them go, like a cloud that floats across the sky. As your breathing slows, your blood pressure drops and your muscles relax. You feel calmer.
Use progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation, which involves alternate tensing and relaxing of muscles, has been shown to reduce levels of stress by creating a state of deep relaxation.
Quick muscle exercise
Close your eyes and concentrate on relaxing your muscle groups for two to three seconds each. Begin with your feet and toes, then move to your knees, your thighs, your bottom, chest, arms, hands, neck, jaw and eyes. All this time, breathe slowly and deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth. In a short time you'll feel more relaxed.
Part of learning to relax is to stop you rushing through life without really noticing what is going on, to stop flitting from one thought to the other so quickly. Mindfulness asks you to pay more attention to your own thoughts and feelings and to the world around you.
Here's a mindful morning routine you can practise:
Keeping your eyes closed, take six deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Listen to your breathing and feel your body waking up.
As you step out of bed, stand and take a really deep breath, stretch your hands to the ceiling with your fingers pointing upwards, as you exhale, lean forward towards your toes. Make yourself aware of your breathing and how this stretch feels.
Having your shower
Feel the water on your skin, and take time to really notice the temperature, the pressure and the sound of the water falling.
Making your morning brew
Give yourself time to think purposefully about every step as you turn the tap, fill the kettle, get your cup and take your first sip.
In this guide we have provided a few techniques to help you relax. There are lots more and what suits one person may not suit another, so practise a few and see what works for you.
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In small doses, stress can help you rise to the challenge. But too much of it can hurt you. Use our guide to learn more about stress so you can make a plan for dealing with it.