Practise relaxation techniques
Relaxation reduces stress and the mental health symptoms of depression and anxiety
We tend to live very fast-paced lives, especially those of us living in cities. Between trying to cram busy commutes, school runs, intense work life, and trying to keep up with friends, as well as the 24/7 connectivity of communication methods and information, life can feel overwhelming, exhausting and stressful.
A busy lifestyle can cause chronic stress, and chronically high levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Chronically elevated stress hormones and an overactive sympathetic nervous system can throw all other hormones, and many other body systems, out of balance, causing HPA axis dysregulation, inflammation and mental health symptoms such as:
It is essential to manage stress so that stress is not perceived as relentless, and to incorporate relaxation techniques into our daily routines.
Relaxation is crucial for our mental health, because it is essential for a balanced nervous system, balanced hormones and neurotransmitters.
Relaxation of the body and mind is one of the most effective ways for our bodies to heal. When we relax, we give the body the time and nutrients to repair the damage caused by the fight-or-flight response. Rankin, L. (2015). The Fear Cure. London: Hay House, p.146.
The relaxation response, which is when our body and mind relax deeply, reduces stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. In this state, hormones and neurotransmitters are balanced, inflammation is reduced, and healing is optimized.
The relaxation response
The term “relaxation response” was coined in 1975 by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School. It is a protective mechanism against stress that brings about decreased heart rate, lower metabolism, and decreased respiratory rate. It is the physiological opposite of the “fight or flight” or stress response. It can be self-induced through the use of techniques associated with transcendental meditation, yoga and biofeedback as well as with good breathing techniques, active muscle relaxation and mediation. http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/relaxation+response
In order to achieve the relaxation response, it is necessary to calm the mind and body, activating the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system initiates muscular relaxation, activates digestion and absorption, and primes the body for sleep.
To trigger the relaxation response it is therefore helpful to have the following:
- A quiet environment
- A mental device, such as a repeated phrase, word, sound or prayer
- A passive non-judgemental attitude
- A comfortable position
Specific relaxation techniques
Though it may seem counter-intuitive, quality relaxation is active relaxation. So relaxation doesn’t mean sitting on the sofa with a bowl of ice cream, watching TV.
As a general rule, physical relaxation usually leads to mental relaxation.
You can outsource your relaxation by working with a mind-body therapist such as a massage therapist, an acupuncturist, a Reiki master, of you can take your relaxation into your own hands by trying the following relaxation techniques:
Breathing can be one of the most effective ways to deeply relax.
Heating the body can be an effective way to relax tense muscles and promote general relaxation. Try:
- A warm bath, ideally with Epsom salts to enhance relaxation
- Sauna therapy
Exercise, as long as it’s not too strenuous for our nervous systems, can bring about deep relaxation.
Certain types of exercise are particularly helpful to promote relaxation of the body and mind, although any type of exercise can be relaxing.
Being in nature and being exposed to natural light can help regulate our circadian rhythms and neurotransmitters, and balance our nervous systems.
Particularly relaxing activities outdoors are walking and gardening.
This is an exercise which can bring immediate relaxation.
- Lie down on the floor or in a bed
- Tense all the muscles of your body for several seconds
- Relax all the muscles of our body for a minutes or two
- Repeat, until you feel yourself relax
- Another option is to tense each muscle group one by one, starting from the toes, and work your way to up to your face, tensing, and then relaxing each muscle from toe to head
Biofeedback can be a helpful form of mental therapy, and also a helpful way to relax.
Heart maths can be a very effective way to relax and rebalance the nervous system.
Meditation can be one of the most effective ways to induce the relaxation response. It lowers stress hormones, and can be very effective in rebalancing the nervous system. For best results it needs to be practiced regularly.
Praying, chanting, and dancing can all be ways to relax, through movement, breathing, and connection to a higher power outside of ourselves. All can also be a form of meditation, conferring some of the same benefits.
Writing your thoughts, feelings, hopes and fears in a private journal can be very helpful in expressing all the things which make you anxious and can help you relax and let go, as well as gain perspective and insight into your situation.
Instrumental, classical, and spiritual music can be particularly helpful to enhance relaxation.
Painting, sculpture, arts and crafts can be a good way to relax, getting your mind off your worries and being in the present moment. It can also help you gain greater insight into your thoughts and feelings if you practise art therapy.
Lying down for 20-30 minutes during the day, even if you don’t feel tired, can help balance your nervous system and enhance your relaxation response.
Binaural beats are sound frequencies played in each ear, which, simultaneously, can help to achieve a desired mental state, such as relaxation, concentration, sleep, etc…
Mind-body therapies, whether you practice them alone, for instance with yoga, qi gong, tai chi; or with a therapist, such as acupuncture, massage, reiki, reflexology, can be very helpful to enhance relaxation.
Psychological issues, whether trauma, existential anxiety, stress over circumstances, relationship difficulties etc… can all make it difficult to relax.
Getting psychological support through mental therapy, whether with a therapist, or through self-therapy, can be helpful with relaxation.