How to learn to relax

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 short guide we provide you with some tried and tested techniques to help you relax wherever and whenever you want.

Image stating that relaxation helps stress
Source: The Mayo Clinic

Stress affects us all from time-to-time but too much can undermine our physical and mental wellbeing. 

Actively learning how to relax is key to reducing our stress.  And while stress may sometimes feel unavoidable, learning how to trigger our body's relaxation response will help counteract some of it's harmful or debilitating effects on you.

Learn controlled breathing

There is good evidence that controlled breathing can promote feelings of calm and relaxation. Most breathing techniques can be used whether you are at your desk, sitting at home or just about anywhere.

A single breath

Take a single breath in, focus 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 your muscles

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 the time breathing slowly and deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth. In a very short time you will feel more relaxed.

Practice mindfulness 

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 without a second thought. Mindfulness asks you to pay more attention to your own thoughts and feelings and to the world around you.

You could create a mindful morning routine for yourself:

Waking up

Keeping your eyes closed, take six deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Listen to your breathing, feel your body waking up. 

Getting 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. All the time make yourself aware of your breathing and the sensations of your stretch.

Having your shower

Feel the water on your skin, take time to really notice the temperature, the pressure and the sound of the water as it falls.

Making your morning brew

Give yourself time, think purposefully about every step, as you turn the tap, fill the kettle, get your cup, boil the water and take your first sip. 

There are a range of mindfulness techniques you can use to help you relax, this example demonstrates just one.The NHS has more information about mindfulness.

Take a digital detox 

Learning to relax requires you to declutter your mind and this is next to impossible if you don't remove yourself from everyday noise. Lots of us use technology as a way to distract us from the hum drum of our lives, but this means we have less space to think, less space for the moments where we can relax.

For one evening a week, and one hour a day, turn off your phone, shut down your laptop, and leave your tablet in another room. We all know that technology makes us extreme multi-taskers, but this behaviour can also lead to stress, anxiety and even decreased productivity.

Removing your digital distractions could initially make you anxious, so you need to make a decision to use this new time to relax. Start with something straight forward like listening to music, reading a book or finding some green space and taking a walk. As things fall into place you can now think about introducing controlled breathing, mindfulness or another relaxation technique. Eventually your digital detox will become part of your relaxation routine.

TIP: Take a break from your mobile, laptop or tablet for an evening a week and an hour a day then use that time to practice a relaxation technique.

Consider getting professional help to relax

When seeing a complementary or alternative practitioner to help you relax, it’s a good idea to ask about their qualifications, professional registration and code of practice before you start any treatment. The NHS has some information on the things you should consider before looking for professional help.

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