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How to practice relaxation techniques when your mind won’t turn off

August 31, 2022 - 15 min read

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What are relaxation techniques?

Benefits of practicing relaxation exercises

What are the most commonly-used relaxation techniques?

How to learn relaxation techniques and stick with them

How to relax more at work

What’s next?

The last time you were stressed, your friend might have told you, “Relax! You worry too much.”

If only it were that easy.

As difficult as it is, you have to find time for stress relief. If you don’t, you risk serious mental and physical health problems. On the milder end of the spectrum, stress will make you grouchy. But on the other end, it can put you at risk of burnout, heart disease, and diabetes.

De-stressing isn’t always the easiest. If you’ve been on edge for too long, relaxation starts to feel unnatural. 

Luckily, many stress management techniques are available to help you break the stress cycle. Picking up new self-care habits is difficult, and some methods might work better for you than others. You’ll have to experiment to find what’s best for you, so be patient.

And we can forgive you for not knowing where to start. That’s why we put together this guide. Here’s everything you need to know about how to practice relaxation techniques.

 

What are relaxation techniques?

Relaxation techniques are exercises you can do to calm your body’s natural stress response.

When you encounter a real or perceived danger, your nervous system pumps stress hormones through your body. These hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, cause physiological changes that help you respond to the situation.

This bodily function emerged through thousands of years of evolution. It’s designed to give you a jolt of energy to either engage with a threat or flee. That’s why it’s called your fight or flight response.

We can agree that survival instincts are a good thing. But your natural stress response can be problematic for several reasons.

  1. The human brain has a broad definition of “danger.” What you consider a stressful situation will vary depending on your personality and past experiences. But almost anything can put your body on high alert — from an encounter with a vicious animal to a high-stakes project at work.
  2. The likelihood of encountering a stress trigger means you’re more likely to stay stressed. And chronic stress can cause an increased heart rate, muscle tension, high blood pressure, aches and pains, and diabetes. It can also affect your mental health, putting you at risk for an anxiety disorder or depression.

Stress is necessary to get you through tough situations, and it’s a powerful motivator. Sometimes, stress is even a good thing. And not all stressors are life-threatening. Either way, relaxation techniques are about calming your body’s response to things that don’t require a life-or-death response.

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Benefits of practicing relaxation exercises

It doesn’t matter which relaxation method you choose because each provides significant mental health benefits and varying degrees of physical health benefits.

Practicing a relaxation technique can:

  • Reduce the symptoms of stress. Each technique will help cancel your fight or flight response, bringing you down from high alert. This will help protect you from the long-term effects of stress.
  • Clear your mind of rumination. Relaxation methods can help you break anxious thought patterns and negative self-talk.

What are the most commonly-used relaxation techniques?

So, if you’re wondering what your options are, here are six relaxation techniques to manage your stress.

1. Breathing exercises

Breathwork is arguably one of the easiest relaxation techniques. Sit somewhere comfortable and take slow deep breaths. You should feel your abdomen expand during inhalation. Then you can gently release.

Focus only on your breathing. If your mind wanders, gently bring yourself back to your inhalations. This can help you let go of negative thoughts and sensations — even if it’s just temporarily.

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2. Body scan

This technique involves progressive muscle relaxation. Start with slow, deep breaths. Then, after a few minutes, turn your attention to one part of your body at a time. Mentally release any physical tension in those muscle groups. You should feel a heaviness in those parts of the body.

This kind of progressive relaxation can create a healthier connection between your mind and body.

3. Guided imagery

Guided imagery is a type of meditation where you visualize soothing objects, places, or experiences.

The visualization process can be as long or as short as you want, making this an ideal technique for when you’re on the go. You can also find free online recordings and apps that help set the scene, but it’s more effective if you pick a meaningful image.

4. Mindfulness meditation

This stress-management technique has roots in ancient Chinese philosophy. Like breathing techniques, mindful meditation starts with sitting and conscious breathing. Then you can turn your attention to your thoughts and feelings, holding them without judgment before letting them go.

Practitioners do their best to ground themselves in the present moment, unburdened by the past and unconcerned about the future.

This is a great relaxation technique for anxiety and depression, as it allows you to identify and break negative thought cycles.

5. Mindful movement and stretching

Yoga, tai chi, and qigong are mindfulness exercises that combine breathing with stretching and flowing movement. They require intense focus, which can help distract you from racing thoughts. The physical aspects can also improve your flexibility and balance. 

However, if you have a physical disability or are otherwise immobile, you might be able to find gentle, accessible ways to move your body.

6. Physical workout

You can walk, run, swim, hike, or play sports. Movement of any kind can boost your endorphins and reduce your stress levels.

The CDC recommends 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day. Or, if you go for a more intense workout, you can reduce that time to 15 minutes.

These are just a few options to start you off. You can also explore other methods such as:

  • Biofeedback
  • Autogenic training
  • Diaphragmatic breathing
  • Music therapy

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  • Aromatherapy
  • Hydrotherapy

Are you wondering which method is right for you? A BetterUp coach can help you make choices that support your well-being. Together we can find a stress-reduction technique that works for you and your schedule.

How to learn relaxation techniques and stick with them

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to relaxation. Everyone will have a slightly different approach. Regular gym-goers have their preferred circuit of weight machines, yogis have their favorite poses, and meditation gurus have their favorite playlist. 

As you experiment with relaxation, you’ll learn to adapt your favorite technique to your preferences, lifestyle, and personality. Until you do, here are some tips on how to make the most of your relaxation. 

  • Wear comfortable clothes. Clothes can heavily influence your frame of mind. Just as you would dress to impress at work, you can dress to relax at home. 
  • Create a designated space for relaxation. If you work outside of the house, don’t bring assignments home with you. If you work from home, create boundaries between your workspace and relaxation space. Ideally, your relaxation zone would be a quiet place free of distraction.
  • Start small. Achieving a relaxed state is like any other skill: it takes time to develop. In most cases, you can start with five-minute sessions and go from there. As you reach your goals, your practice will become easier and easier.
  • Put it in your schedule. Pick a time when you can de-stress every day. Some people schedule 15-minute stretch breaks every morning and afternoon. Others start their day with a workout. Pick something that works for you and make it a regular practice.

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  • Be kind to yourself. It might sound counterintuitive, but relaxation takes work. Your first meditation won’t instantly make you a zen master, and that’s okay. As long as you keep at it, you’ll eventually notice the benefits.

How to relax more at work

83% of U.S workers experience stress at work, and 25% say that work is the number one stressor in their lives. 

You might be one of them. Thankfully, you don’t have to leave your relaxation techniques at home. Instead, you can use them to de-stress when you need them most.

Here’s how you can find more zen in the workplace.

  • Get to know your stressors. If your colleague pesters you with too many questions, talk about boundaries or more effective communication methods. If you have too much on your plate, think about asking for help. Identifying your stressors and avoiding them can ease your mind at work.
  • Set reminders to take breaks. It’s easy to go a full day before realizing you didn’t eat lunch. The same goes for your relaxation methods. Try scheduling short breaks to focus on your breathing, get up and stretch, or make some tea. This will help you release tension throughout the day.

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  • Run errands that get you moving. Maybe you need to deliver something to another department or pick up a package. Whatever it is, use it as an excuse to take a short walk. Fresh air and physical movement will improve your mood immensely.

What’s next?

Proper self-care requires time, effort, and commitment. But it’s necessary for your health and well-being. Without it, you put yourself at serious risk of burnout and other ailments.

Now that you know how to practice relaxation techniques, you can decide how to proceed. You just have to trust that better is possible. Your results won’t be instant. But if you stick with it, you can focus on yourself and find your inner zen.

If you’ve tried everything and you’re still on edge, BetterUp is here. Our coaches can help you identify your stressors and take steps to address and manage them. Together, we can brainstorm a plan that’s right for you.

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Published August 31, 2022

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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