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3 relaxation strategies you need to know about

Posted on Friday, 20 April 2018, in Anxiety & Stress

3 relaxation strategies you need to know about

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.


How does relaxation help?

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.


Practice Makes Perfect

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.

Practice relaxation techniques


How Do I Get Started?

Here are three simple techniques you can try at home:


1. Visualisation

What’s the idea?

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.


How do I do it?

Relaxation Techniques

  • Find a place to sit or lie that is peaceful and comfortable, and where you are unlikely to be disturbed.
  • Close your eyes, or if this doesn’t feel safe, fix your gaze on a blank stretch of wall.
  • Allow your mind to summon the image of a place that you’ve visited where you felt safe and relaxed.
  • Explore this place – take a walk around in the memory. As you do, try to paint a picture with your senses, to truly absorb yourself in it. What can you see? What can you hear? What can you smell, or even taste? What is the weather like? What can you touch? Remember how you felt in this place – what emotions are you experiencing? How does your body feel?
  • When you are ready to come back from your vacation, slowly reorient yourself to your surroundings, open your eyes, and come back into the present moment.


2. Colour breathing

What’s the idea?

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.


How do I do it?

Colour Breathing

  • Before you begin, take a moment to consider what ‘colour’ your emotions take. For instance, some people describe their anger as being black, or red. Many people associate blue with feelings of calm.
  • When you are ready to start, sit or lay down somewhere comfortable, where you are unlikely to be disturbed.
  • First, close your eyes and identify what emotion you are currently experiencing. Remember what colour you associated with that emotion.
  • Now, imagine your lungs filled with that colour. For example, if you associate anger with the colour red, you might imagine you are breathing in and out red air.
  • Next, set your intention: which emotion would you like to experience right now? Remember which colour you associate with that emotion.
  • Then, imagine inhaling air that is the colour of that emotion – perhaps blue, if you want to feel calm. Visualise the blue air entering your body through your nose or mouth, travelling down your windpipe, and into your lungs, mixing with the other colours there.
  • When you breathe out, imagine exhaling the colour of the emotion that you want to remove from your body.
  • Continue this cycle until your lungs are filled with the colour of your choosing. When you are ready, take a few moments to gather your thoughts, and come back into the room.


Clinical Partners Breathing Exercise

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.


3. Progressive muscle relaxation

What’s the idea?

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.


How do I do it?

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

  • Begin by finding a comfortable place to sit, where you are unlikely to be disturbed.
  • You might like to close your eyes, to soften your gaze, or to fix your eyes on a blank stretch of wall. The important thing is that you will not be distracted.
  • Now, start to tense and release every part of your body in turn, starting at the top of your body and working down.
  • With each part of your body, hold the stretch for a few seconds, and notice how the muscles become tight. Remember to listen to your body and be careful not to strain your muscles by stretching too hard or for too long. Gentle movements are key.
  • When you release the stretch, notice the difference in how your muscles feel.
  • Important parts of the body to focus on are:
    • The neck – tilt your head gently to one side, and then the other.
    • The jaw – jut your jaw out for a few seconds
    • The face – screw your face up as tight as you can
    • The arms, hands, and wrists – make a fist and stretch your arms out wide
    • The stomach – take a deep breath and hold this for a few seconds before releasing
    • The glutes, legs and feet – squeeze your muscles tight, stretch your legs out and curly your toes.
  • Once you have tensed and relaxed each of your key muscle groups, finish by with a few deep breaths before coming back into the room.


The Take Home

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.

Relaxation Strategies

Abie Alfrey

Abie Alfrey

Abie graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a first class (honours) degree in Psychology and Philosophy. She went on to work as a behaviour therapist for young adults with autistic spectrum disorder and challenging behaviour, followed by a period as an assistant psychologist working with adults with epilepsy.

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