There is no doubt that the human body has a high capacity to adapt to situations in which it is convenient to take action.
The hormones that are secreted by the endocrine system and the way our brain interprets which are the moments in which we have to move quickly make it possible to face stressful situations with a good performance.
However, our day to day sometimes makes us carry an excess of responsibilities and inoculates us with too high doses of anxiety. That's why it's useful to know some relaxation techniques for stress.
When should we use relaxation techniques?
The first thing that we must take into account when considering to introduce relaxation techniques in our lives is that, unlike the use of psychotropic drugs, relaxation exercises have no side effects. Its power and effectiveness to combat anxiety are based on self-regulation, that is, the possibility of carrying out actions through which we modify the way in which the chemical substances that our body generates naturally are segregated.
Therefore, relaxation techniques are an intelligent way to take advantage of the mechanics that govern the human body, instead of "cheating" introducing substances in the form of injections or pills. Thus, the only cost of using relaxation exercises is some time and minimal effort.
Fighting much more than stress
In fact, these techniques to combat stress can be used even when we do not feel stressed because they can be introduced into our daily routine merely to prevent the appearance of anxiety problems and, why not, to feel better and more rested.
But relaxation techniques do not have to be used when we experience stress. It must be clear that stress is something natural and may be present at such low levels that, in fact, it is useful. For something, there is something called eustress, or positive stress.
When it would be appropriate to use the resource of relaxation exercises is when we notice that the stress levels are high enough and remain long enough to have a negative impact on our quality of life.
Some examples of when to use them :
When we have been noticing an anxiety for several days that gives us problems.
When we go through a stage of mourning or loss.
When experiencing work stress or Burnout Syndrome.
When stress causes us to engage in the obsessive behavior, such as biting our nails or touching our hair all the time ( trichotillomania ).
At times when we feel harassed in some way ( workplace harassment ), conflicts with neighbors, etc. Of course, relaxation techniques must be accompanied by measures that stop us from suffering such harassment.
In stages in which there is a severe family climate or problems in the couple's relationship.
When the amount of tasks and responsibilities overwhelms us, or when we have problems to reconcile professional and personal life.
The benefits of relaxation exercises
- The advantages of using relaxation techniques depend, in part, on the type of exercises we use.
- However, in general terms, the benefits that we will obtain by putting relaxation techniques in our lives are the following :
- They bring us to a feeling of well-being.
- They give us more control over what happens in our body.
- They reduce blood pressure.
- It helps us to break the vicious circle of negative thoughts.
- They make our self-esteem improve.
- They help us to feel more prepared to face new situations.
- They reduce the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in our blood.
- They help us fall asleep.
- They reduce muscle tension.
Some techniques improve blood flow to large muscle groups.
Relaxation for day to day (and step by step)
These are relaxation techniques that you can use every day, making them part of your routine. Being simple and easy to follow, you can learn them on your own based on several weeks of practice, although you should know that there is also the possibility of acquiring other more complex training proposals for which you would need an instructor who is physically by your side when you are going to do them
The best times to perform these relaxation techniques are right after waking up or before going to sleep. Remember that it is convenient to do them in quiet and secluded places and you should wear comfortable clothes while following these steps.
1. Breathing with the diaphragm
Many times, just modifying the way we breathe will trigger a series of processes in our body that will significantly reduce anxiety. This, coupled with the fact that relaxation techniques related to breathing are elementary to perform, makes diaphragmatic breathing an ideal exercise to start.
The objective of this technique is to make you learn to pay attention to your breathing and train yourself to breathe optimally, causing the abdomen more prominent than the chest.
The steps to follow to perform this technique are the following:
Lie on a flat surface facing upwards and maintaining a straight posture, but without contracting the muscles. You can also sit on a chair making your thighs parallel and form a 90-degree angle to the trunk.
Put the palm of one of your hands on the chest and the other on your abdomen. For 20 seconds, direct your attention to how breathing causes these two zones to move.
The fact that the chest moves much more than the abdomen is a sign of shallow breathing, which often makes us lack oxygen even though we do not realize it.
For a minimum of 3 minutes, you must guide your breathing to make the hand that rests on the abdomen move more than the one on the chest. To achieve this, inhale deeply through the nose for about 5 seconds and keep the air in the belly area for a couple of seconds. Then, exhale through the mouth for another 5 seconds.
There are many ways to perform meditation, but here you can see a variant exceptionally easy to achieve.
For this relaxation technique you will need to sit down (not lie down) in a comfortable chair and start following the steps described in the breathing exercise with the diaphragm. As you direct your attention to the breath, you must mentally recite a phrase such as "I relax," "I calm down" or some other that evokes the action of leaving anxiety behind. You can describe this sentence at the end of each exhalation.
Remember, also, that meditation can offer you many other benefits.
3. Guided imagination
This relaxation technique borrows the method followed in diaphragmatic breathing but, in this case, your attention will be directed towards an imagined scenario that transmits peace and calm. Therefore, when you want to approach it is better than you have practiced before with diaphragmatic breathing, which is a more natural exercise, although this relaxation technique is also simple.
The steps to follow are these:
Use the first minute to follow the instructions given for diaphragmatic breathing. You can play relaxing music in the background, or use recordings with rain sound.
With your eyes closed, imagine a natural environment that helps you to be relaxed, like a garden full of flowers. Make sure that this image is very vivid and detailed so that it captures all your attention while you continue to breathe deeply.
Go through the imagined environment and explore it with all your senses. Get lost in each of the details of this scene: the colors of a flower, the feel of the leaves, the rays of the sun on the horizon, the sound of birds, etc. Move slowly around the stage as if you had a route fixed by rails.
After a few minutes, make this environment fade slowly while your attention gradually returns to focus on your breathing. When nothing is left of that image, open your eyes and give the exercise finished.
4. Quick relaxation exercise
This relaxation technique is effortless and is designed to be used several times a day. It consists, basically, that every time you see an object of your choices, such as a vase of flowers in your living room or a decorative figurine, perform three or four deep breaths in a row while you feel how all your muscles relax.
Although this exercise is very short, it is advisable that during the process you focus your attention on the breathing and do not get distracted. You can also imagine a relaxing image (like a lonely beach or a tree in a garden) while you do it.
5. Jacobson's progressive muscle relaxation
This relaxation technique was developed by the American physician Edmund Jacobson in the first half of the 20th century, and even today it is widely used.
It consists of gradually relaxing the muscle groups of the body as if it were the route of a small imaginary train. It is a beneficial exercise to reduce anxiety related to physical processes such as sports or the monitoring of strict schedules. However, doing so will take longer than the rest, so you should make sure you have a time when no one is going to bother you.
To perform this relaxation technique, follow these steps :
Lie down or sit in a comfortable place, making legs and arms parallel. If you decide to sit down, make the palms rest on your thighs. You can use recordings with relaxing sounds. Close your eyes.
Take a few seconds to breathe deeply with the diaphragm.
Concentrate on the sensations that your right foot produces. Visualize it by the imagination and, when you notice that all your attention is placed on it, it contracts with force the muscles of that part of the body causing your foot to tense for 5 seconds.
It returns to make all the muscles of the foot completely relaxed. Concentrate your attention on the sensation of calm that that part of the body produces for about 20 seconds.
Repeat this process with your other foot, the twins and the thighs of each of the legs, your abdomen, the pectorals, the arms, the hands, the back, the neck, the jaw, the face and the scalp.
Breathe deeply for 20 seconds and open your eyes.
The Mindfulness is becoming very popular because of the ease in which it can be adapted to various situations, and although the practice has many advantages, it can also be an excellent relaxation technique.
In this article on Mindfulness exercises, you can find several easy-to-follow exercises.