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How to learn to relax

Knowing how to relax is an essential part of managing your stress. 

While you can't avoid all stressful situations, learning how to trigger your body's relaxation response helps counteract some of its harmful effects. And whilst consciously making a plan to relax might seem a bit over the top, knowing that you can't function effectively if you've got nothing left in the tank might make you think again.

Image stating that relaxation helps stress
Source: The Mayo Clinic

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

Relaxation techniques

  • 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.
  • Try 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.

  • Practice mindfulness

    When you learn to relax you'll be able to stop rushing through life without noticing what's going on. Mindfulness asks you to pay more attention to your own thoughts and feelings and to the wider world around you.

    Here's a mindful morning routine you can practice:

    Waking up. 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.

    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. 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.

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