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Relax the Mind & Body: Relaxation Techniques for Anxiety & Stress

Discover how to relax the mind and body with proven relaxation techniques for anxiety and stress. Simple practices that help ease us into a more relaxed state..

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relaxation for anxiety
In this article we will be taking a much needed breather from our hectic lives.
 
We will be slowing things down and purposefully taking time to relax the mind and body. 
Consider this page to be an oasis – a break from the struggle and striving in life. Much of which we unnecessarily place on ourselves.
Here we will be learning HOW to relax – using highly effective relaxation techniques for anxiety and stress.
 
We will be using these techniques and practices to take back control of our innate ability to relax and let go.
 
As difficult as it may seem for some  – especially those of us with deep seated anxiety and trauma – being able to relax can be practiced and learned.
 
This can be a similar process as developing self-control or learning a new language. 
 
We do have control over our own ability to relax and let go – most of us have just forgotten how to do it.
 
If you are struggling with anxiety, stress, fear or trauma – learning to allow yourself to let go and relax can have profound positive benefits for your body and mind.
 
These benefits can become greater as you begin to use these techniques daily.
 
In this article, we will be discussing the importance of daily relaxation, how to incorporate it into your daily life, and easy and effective relaxation techniques for stress and anxiety you can practice RIGHT NOW. 
 
So let's get started!

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The Importance of Relaxation for Anxiety

Most of us were never taught how to relax.
 
For many of us, “relaxation” really means distraction or avoidance.
 
Staring at the television after a stressful day at work or having a few drinks to relax the inner tension we feel. 
 
Few of us take the time to step back and take a break from our thoughts.
 
Few of us take the time to actively relax our minds and bodies through breathing or physical relaxation. 
 
Even fewer of us actually know how to let it all go and release the thoughts or feelings we've been carrying around with us.
 
This inability to release thoughts and feelings and just let go, is often one of the major reasons we are stressed out and anxious in the first place.
 
Unfortunately, these are rarely (Life) skills that are taught to us.
Even in the “self-help” space, there tends to be a strong focus on achievement, reaching goals, improving one's self and staying motivated – with much less focus on learning to relax and taking time to unwind, reset and let go. 
 
While trying to improve ourselves or reach our goals is a valid and honorable way to live, if we are unrelenting with our striving to “improve” (whether it is our physical appearance, career, or even our “anxiety”) we will create an imbalance in our lives.
 
As we push ourselves more and more to achieve and become “better” we put more pressure on ourselves,which can often make our stress and anxiety worse.
 
This pressure we put on ourselves combined with our already fast-paced lifestyles and the stresses of modern life is why so many of us are overly stressed and anxious.
 
This is why developing the ability to relax is essential for reducing anxiety and creating balance in our lives.
 
When we are constantly stressed or anxious we tend to live in a state of “fight or flight.”
 
Our breathing becomes more tense and shallow, our heart rate increases and our body begins to release more and more stress hormones.
 
We begin to feel “stressed out” and all of this stress tends to lead to physical and psychological symptoms.
 
These symptoms include headaches, bodily pains, anxiety, depression, insomnia, digestive issues and more.
 
Learning to relax and taking the time daily to relax and reset is essential to balancing this mounting stress.
 
The keyword here is BALANCE
 
It is essential in daily life to balance your daily stress, anxiety, and motivation with relaxation.
 
Just as it is necessary to balance your waking state with sleep or balancing your diet with proper amounts of proteins, carbs, and fats.
 
We don't need to eliminate stress entirely, in fact some stress is good for us, it can motivate us – but we need balance.
 
Taking time each time to relax and let go of what we are compulsively holding onto can help immensely towards reaching this balance in life.

Making Relaxation a New Habit

To truly balance your life you need to be able to induce relaxation in your mind and body.
 
To start, we recommend setting aside at least 10 mins – preferably more – per day (every day) to sit and relax.
 
Make this an essential part of your nightly routine.
 
If you're already doing meditation or breathing exercises you can continue doing those while adding in specific relaxation techniques that you find helpful. 
 
If you plan on doing meditation or other exercises in the future, learning how to relax first can greatly improve your ability to quiet the mind and meditate when the time comes.
 
Regardless of where you are currently, make time to relax daily.
 
The ability to induce relaxation in the mind and body can be a profound life skill, necessary to balance life and reduce anxiety and stress.

Benefits of Daily Relaxation

How to Relax the Mind... and the Body Will Follow

One of the most important skills for those of us with anxiety is learning how to relax the mind.
 
Anxiety is the opposite of relaxation.
 
Our anxious minds can become carried away with worry, mental tension and chronic obsessive thoughts.
 
By learning to calm the mind and promote mental and physical relaxation we can reduce the constant influx of stress chemicals and create space in our minds so we are not so engaged with our worrisome thoughts (also known as fusion or cognitive fusion).
When we take time to relax we become more aware and in touch with our current state – pausing from our normal habituated thoughts and responses – we can reset
There are 4 key components to fostering relaxation, calming the mind and reducing anxiety:
 
  1. Awareness: increasing present moment awareness allows for a subtle shift from being immersed in our thoughts and worries to noticing how they play out – meditation and mindfulness practices are powerful ways to help improve our ability to bring awareness to our present moment experiences
  2. Acceptance: acceptance removes the need to change, control or fight our already overactive minds – it gives us space to breath and allows us to surrender to life as it unfolds – trying to fight our anxiety or mentally change our thoughts in the heat of anxiety or panic, rarely works
  3. Breathing: taking slow deep breaths activates our parasympathetic nervous system which calms the brain and body, slowing the heart rate and reducing an overactive nervous system or stress response; our breath is our direct path to mental and physical relaxation (and it's one aspect in life we can directly control)
  4. Physical Relaxation: when the body is relaxed the mind typically follows (and vice versa) – this is why massage or focused muscle relaxation can be so helpful in relaxing the mind – even having a more relaxed posture or softening the belly can promote a more relaxed state of mind
All of the relaxation techniques below provide these 4 key components and can be profoundly effective for learning how to relax the mind and promote calm.
 
These techniques can be valuable for reducing anxiety and stress and promoting greater balance and ease in our lives.

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Relaxation Techniques

In this article “relaxation” is NOT staring at the TV, mindlessly clicking through your phone or reading a book.
 
Although these are things many of us do to unwind at the end of the day, they are not the type of relaxation we are talking about.
 
In order to learn to relax effectively, you will need to set aside distractions. So turn off all other distractions. Go somewhere quiet where you won't be disturbed. Set aside at least 10 to 20 mins.
 
Doing this at/near the end of the day seems to be the best time.
 
You can see it as a way to unwind from the stressors of the day and clear your mind.
 
There are 2 types of relaxation techniques we will be discussing. Active Relaxation and Passive Relaxation. Both can be quite effective.
 
We purposefully divided the techniques into 2 types to better suit different types of people.
 
Some of us find it easier to relax with active participation in the process. While others will prefer to be passive and let go. 
 
Only you will know which is right for you. Try techniques from both and see which works best for you.

Active Relaxation Techniques

Active relaxation is any technique that involves actively doing something in order to promote relaxation. Most breathing techniques, muscle relaxation, visualization and most forms of meditation would be considered active.
 
Below we will give techniques for each.
 
You can find more in-depth explanations and additional techniques throughout this site.

Soft Belly Breathing

Soft Belly Breathing is a simple but powerful technique made popular by James Gordon M.D., with the Center for Mind-Body Medicine as an effective relaxation technique for anxiety, stress and trauma. It has been used to help treat war veterans, victims of violence and natural disasters among others.
 
You can learn more about Dr. Gordon's work at cmbm.org

Visualization Technique: "The Secret Garden"

Visualization can be a powerful technique for relaxation. The ultimate purpose and power behind visualization is its ability to bypass the anxious rational mind and create positive feelings and emotions from the imagination and subconscious mind. The visualized experience can become so real that it realigns your current mental and emotional state. In the technique below we will be exploring the interior world of our “secret garden.”
 

Directions:

  1. Seat yourself in a comfortable position
  2. Begin by closing your eyes and taking slow deep breaths for several minutes
  3. As you begin to relax, imagine an elevator in front of you
  4. Picture it in detail; what kind of elevator is it, what does it look like?
  5. Enter the elevator and press the button for level G; your Secret Garden
  6. The elevator doors close and you begin descending down until it reaches level G
  7. The elevator doors open revealing a garden, the most beautiful and tranquil garden you have ever seen
  8. What does it look like? What does it feel like?
  9. Step into your garden and imagine in detail everything you see and feel
  10. What types of plants do you see? Can you smell them?
  11. What other things are there? Fountains? Statues? Birds?
  12. Can you hear the sounds? Can you smell the fresh air?
  13. What type of weather or climate is your garden?
  14. Is the temperature mild with a cool breeze? Or warmer like a tropical island?
  15. As you see, smell, hear and feel everything in your garden, walk over to the center of your garden
  16. Find a place to sit at the center. It could be a large tree or fountain. Maybe a statue of a God or Goddess. Or a symbol that you have a strong affinity for…
  17. Seat yourself comfortably in front of this centerpiece at the center of your garden
  18. Relax and breath slowly and calmly
  19. Continue to feel, hear and smell everything in your garden as you feel complete calm and relaxation wash over you
  20. This is your garden, no one else can enter here. You feel complete safety and peace
  21. Continue to relax and renew yourself here for as long as you desire
  22. When you are ready to return simply walk back to the elevator
  23. Stepping inside press the button L to return upwards
  24. Once the elevator returns to the original location you entered from open your eyes
  25. Feel free to return to your Center Garden whenever you desire
 

Focused Muscle Relaxation: "The Golden Ball"

Focused Muscle Relaxation is an effective way to relax the body from head to toe. Typically those of us with anxiety tend to hold a lot of tension in our bodies. This is a good way to release that tension and promote greater relaxation.
 
We will be imagining a golden ball of energy passing from the crown of our head to the tips of our toes. As the ball enters each area we will breathe in and hold the breath and physically contract (tighten and hold for 8 seconds) that area – as we exhale it moves away and we will release the tension. 
 
Directions:
  1. Get into a comfortable position and close your eyes
  2. Breathe deeply for several minutes
  3. Allow yourself to become more and more comfortable wherever you are
  4. Feel the surface you are resting on, allowing it to fully support the weight of your body
  5. Let go of trying to support your weight or any part of your body at all
  6. Now breathe in deeply and imagine a warm golden ball at the crown (top/center) of your head
  7. At the end of the inhalation, hold the breath while contracting/tightening the crown of your head (in this case you can simply imagine contracting the crown of your head): hold the breath and the contraction for 8 secs
  8. Exhale and feel that ball of energy move slowly down from your crown to your face
  9. As it passes down, feel the warmth and relaxation it has left at the crown, with calming thoughts as it passes
  10. When the golden ball reaches your face, inhale while contracting all the muscles of the face (lips, mouth, eyes, forehead, jaw, etc.): hold the breath and the contraction for 8 secs.
  11. Exhale, releasing the contraction, feel your face relax completely as you feel the energy from the golden ball move down to your throat
  12. Inhale, hold the breath and contract the muscles of the throat
  13. Exhale and feel your throat relax completely as the golden energy moves down to your chest
  14. Inhale and hold the breath while contracting the muscles of the chest
  15. Exhale and feel your chest muscles relax completely as the ball of energy continues down to the stomach
  16. (Continue to repeat this pattern with your stomach, groin, the front of your legs and your feet)
  17. Really feel that golden energy removing all tension with the arrival of the golden ball on the inhale and contraction and the release, warmth and relaxation on the exhale as it continues moving down
  18. After you finish your feet continue to the backside of your body, in the same way, working your way back up to your crown (top of  your head)
  19. (The backside will be: the backside of your legs, your butt, lower back, middle and upper back, neck and then crown)
  20. You can complete this circle as many times as you wish!

Meditation

There are many different forms and techniques of meditation. Too many in fact to cover in this one article on relaxation.

If your interested in learning more about meditation and meditation techniques you can check out our in-depth article which covers different types of meditation, mindfulness, postures, tips and more postures, you can find that article HERE.

Passive Relaxation Techniques

Passive relaxation techniques involve standing aside to accept, allow and/or let go. Passive relaxation techniques generally involve watching the breath, developing the witness, total acceptance and letting go. All of these can be combined to make one relaxation session or can be used on their own.
 
These can be powerful relaxation techniques for anxiety and stress – as they allow us to detach and give us space from our overactive minds and need for control.

Watching the Breath/ Awareness of Breathing

Watching the breath is a simple but effective relaxation technique for anxiety – it is also the basic form of most meditation practices. It can help quiet the mind, relax the body and let go of trying to control life. Learning to watch the breath can also be a good intro into developing the “witness.”
 
Directions:
  1. Get into a comfortable seated position with your hands on your legs or lap
  2. Close your eyes and take some slow deep breaths for 1-2 mins
  3. Now instead of trying to control or slow the breath, simply begin to watch it
  4. Notice how your breath happens all on its own – there no is no need to make any effort
  5. Notice how your breath literally is breathing you
  6. Allow your breath to happen on its own, at its own speed and depth
  7. Notice where your focus seems to go on the actual sensation of breathing
  8. It could be the feel of the air passing into and out of the nostrils – or it could be the rising and falling of the chest or stomach
  9. Choose one sensation to place your attention on and watch throughout the duration of the technique
  10. Remember we are watching the present experience of breathing as it is happening now – not thinking about breathing
  11. Whenever you notice you are trying to take back control of your breath simply release and gently allow it to go on on its own
  12. Feel the freedom and relaxation of simply observing the breath

"The Witness"

The witness or observer is pure conscious awareness unattached to your thoughts or ego. It is the pure awareness that is always available to you. While it is incredibly simple it can be somewhat difficult to achieve for long when first starting. Don't be discouraged. With practice, it will become easier.
 
The Witness can be used anytime – not just for relaxation. It can be effectively used when dealing with strong emotions or racing thoughts. It can be an immensely powerful technique for experiencing thoughts and feelings without resistance or judgement.
 
Directions:
  1. Get into a comfortable seated position with your hands on your legs or lap
  2. Close your eyes and take some slow deep breaths for 1-2 mins
  3. Begin watching the breath similar to the exercise above
  4. Notice how the breath breaths of its own accord
  5. Now begin to become very curious about your own thoughts and feelings right now
  6. Begin observing your thoughts as if you were a scientist watching a rare process taking place in front of you
  7. It's something you've never seen before so you have to observe it carefully
  8. Where do the thoughts come from?
  9. What are the thoughts made of?
  10. Where do they go after they have passed through your mind?
  11. Simply observe in this detached, non-judging mode
  12. If feelings begin to form watch those with curiosity as well
  13. If you find yourself trying to control your thoughts, feelings or emotions, simply witness yourself trying to control your thoughts and feelings
  14. Let go of trying to interfere in any way
  15. There is no goal here, it's simply an experiment
  16. You may begin to feel immense peace

Total Acceptance & Letting Go

The concepts of acceptance and letting go expands far beyond relaxation techniques. They can be powerful approaches for change, personal growth, healing and more. Acceptance can be an entire mindset for how we approach life – eliminating resistance. Letting go has the power to free us from our past stuck ways. For this article, we will be focusing on these 2 approaches together to enter into powerful relaxation.
 
Directions:
  1. Begin by getting into a comfortable position
  2. Close your eyes and take several deep breaths and turn your attention inward
  3. Begin to notice the thoughts, feelings or emotions you are having RIGHT NOW
  4. Allow them to be whatever they are as they happen
  5. Don't try to alter, edit or control your thoughts in any way – simply accept them as they are
  6. As you accept them simply let them go and notice the next thought that appears
  7. The purpose here is to release your constant “grip” on your mind and need to control or trying to change your thoughts and feelings
  8. Begin to view your thoughts simply like clouds in the blue sky – they pass by and then they are gone
  9. More clouds come and then they are gone
  10. You can not hold onto clouds; they simply arise and then are gone again
  11. It may help to see your feelings and emotions as waves – building up and intensifying before calming down again and then disappearing – like waves in the ocean
  12. Continue to accept and let go of any thoughts, feelings and emotions that arise in this moment
  13. If something arises in you it may be helpful to simply ask yourself “Could I let this go now?” and then let it go
  14. In time you may find the thoughts have slowed and the only feeling you are left with is peace
  15. You can continue for as long as you feel

Having Trouble With the Techniques?

We have provided several simple but effective relaxation techniques that work great for anxiety. If you are in an extremely anxious state or having trouble sitting still long enough do these techniques try some of the following suggestions.
 
  • try to use the techniques later in the day or whenever you won't be bothered and have fewer responsibilities to deal with
  • if your mind is particularly chatty and won't slow down; prior to doing the techniques take out a piece of paper and free-form write whatever comes into your mind; the key is writing quickly with no editing; when your done crumple the paper up and throw it away; now begin the technique
  • taking a hot shower or bath while using any of the techniques above can make it much easier to relax
  • if you're still struggling to relax, you can try combining these techniques with the proper anti-anxiety supplements (we have our recommended list HERE), and/or anti-anxiety technologies (which you can find HERE) to greatly enhance your ability to relax
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