If you have anxiety, feel stressed out or experience angry outbursts that leave you reeling, relaxation might be for you. Most of us feel overwhelmed at times and being able to calm things down has huge benefits for not only your mood, but you’re your physical health. Relaxation literally calms your whole system down, allowing your hormones to come back into balance.
This is because they help to regulate your sympathetic nervous system, or ‘fight or flight’ response, as it is commonly known. This is the system that gets activated when you sense that you might be in a danger - causing our heart rate to rise, our breathing to quicken, and our senses to heighten.
Sometimes the fight-or-fight response is justified, because we are in real danger – in fact, this system has kept our species going over thousands of years. However, sometimes the activation is faulty, as a result of previous experiences that have happened to us. When this system is being repeatedly activated in the absence of a genuine threat to our safety, it can start to cause disruption to our day-to-day lives. It is at this point where regular relaxation practice can become really helpful.
There are lots of different ways to relax, and not every technique will work for everyone. For this reason, it is important to try out different techniques and see how each one makes you feel. Remember, you might not find it wholly effective straight away - learning to relax is a skill, and like other skills, it takes practice to master. For this reason, it is best to practice regularly, ideally for a short period every day, perhaps before bed. It is also important to try to practice when you are in a gentle frame of mind to begin with, as you are more likely to succeed. Once you have mastered the skills, you can then start to use them to help you when things are difficult – be that due to stress, anxiety, anger, or something else.
Here are three simple techniques you can try at home:
Often when we’re distressed we become preoccupied with upsetting ideas, and tend to focus on negative memories rather than positive ones. Visualising a place that holds positive memories can help to redress this imbalance. Often, just our imagination is enough to convince our mind and body that the danger has passed and that we are safe. Common images that people choose to visit in difficult times include the seaside, peaceful woodland areas, and meadows. However, you might have somewhere else in mind – perhaps revisiting a house or café that you enjoyed spending time in, or watching a particular event, like a sunset.
When we’re stressed, anxious, or frustrated, our breathing tends to quicken. Breathing exercises are designed to over-ride this urge to breath quickly, and by slowing things down, helps us to feel calmer. Colour breathing is a particular type of breathing exercise that uses intention to regulate your emotional world. This puts you firmly back in the drivers seat.
If you're feeling anxious, try to calm your breathing and relax by breathing in sync with this video. Simply inhale while the cloud grows and exhale while it shrinks.
When we experience difficult emotions we have a tendency to become tense. Often, tension is felt most strongly in the neck and shoulders, but many people also hold tension in other areas, such as their stomach or back. This exercise is a way to get to know your body better and identify whether you are holding tension in your body, and if so, where it is that you tend to hold this tension. By working through this exercise slowly, you can start to release the tension.
Relaxation skills can be a helpful way to cope with difficult emotions, but they are only part of the picture, and you don’t have to go it alone. If you would like help managing your distress, call Clinical Partners’ knowledgeable triage team on 0203 326 9160 to see how we can help.
Clinical Partners is the UK’s largest private mental health partnership, helping children, adults, families and organisations nationwide.