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Six Relaxation Techniques to Help
Reduce Your Stress

All of us face many stressful situations over the course of our lives, which range from simply minor annoyances such as traffic jams to concerns that are more serious, like a severe illness of a loved one. However, no matter what causes it, your body is flooded with hormones with stress. Your muscles tenses, your breathing starts to speed up, and your heart pounds.

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The "stress response" is actually a normal reaction to a potentially threatening situation, which dates back to our prehistory that helped humans survive threats such as a flood or animal attack. These days, we do not face those types of physical dangers very often. However, the stress response can still be set off by challenging situations that arise in our daily lives. It is impossible to avoid all sources of stress and we really wouldn't want to. However, we can find healthier ways to respond to them.

One effective way of invoking the "relaxation response" is through using a technique that was initially developed at the Harvard Medical School during the 1970s by Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiologist. The relaxation response is the exact opposite of what the stress response is. The state is one of profound rest that may be elicited in numerous ways. Through regular practice, you can develop a well of calmness to draw on when you need it. 

Below are six helpful relaxation techniques to help you reduce stress and evoke an effective relaxation response.

  1. Breath focus. With this powerful, yet simple technique, you take deep, slow, and long breaths (also referred to as belly or abdominal breathing). As you start to breathe, you disengage your mind gently from distracting sensations and thoughts. Breath focus is potentially useful for individuals who have eating disorders by helping them focus on their body in a more positive manner. However, the technique might not be right for people who have health problems that make it hard to breathe, like heart failure or respiratory ailments.
  1. Body scan. This particular technique combines progressive muscle relaxation with breath focus. After breathing deeply for a couple of minutes, you focus a group of muscles or a part of your body at a time and mentally release the physical tension that you feel in that area. A body scan helps to increase your awareness of your body-mind connection. If you had surgery recently that impacts your body image or issues with body image, then this technique might not be as helpful.
  1. Guided imagery. With this technique, you imagine soothing experiences, places, or scenes within your mind that will help you focus and relax. There are online recordings and free apps of calming scenes that are available. Just be sure that you select images that you find to be soothing and that also has personal significance for you. Guided imagery can help to reinforce a positive view of yourself. However, it can be hard for people who have difficulties conjuring up mental images or have intrusive thoughts.
  1. Mindfulness meditation. This technique involves sitting in a comfortable position, focus on your breathing, and then draw the attention of your mind on the present without drifting into worries about the future or the past. In recent years, this meditation form has continued to increase in popularity. It is suggested by research that it might be helpful for individuals with pain, depression, and anxiety.
  1. Qigong, tai chi, yoga. These are three ancient arts that combine a series of flowing movements or postures with breathing. The physical aspects involved in these practices provide a mental focus to help distract you against racing thoughts. These practices can also help to enhance your balance and flexibility. If you normally are not active, have health issues, or have a disabling or painful condition, then these relaxation techniques may be too difficult. Before getting started, check first with your doctor.
  1. Repetitive prayer. With this method, you silently repeat a brief phrase or prayer while you practice breath focus. The method can be particularly appealing if spirituality or religion is something that you find meaningful.

Instead of choosing one technique only, experts recommend that you sample several different ones to find out which one works the best for you. Try practicing for 20 minutes per day at least. Even only a couple of minutes can be helpful. However, the more often and longer you practice the relaxation techniques, the more you will be able to reduce your stress, and the greater the benefits will be.

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