We live in a stressful world. Between the varied stressors that may inhabit your life—ailing family members, strenuous education, exhausting work environments, pressure-laden careers, children, health and diet—there’s a good chance you haven’t taken the time to reduce the harmful effects of these stressors and relax. While relaxation may seem like a luxury meant for only those who have guaranteed “free time” every day or those who have money to invest in elusive spa days, the fact is that adopting relaxation techniques can be done by anyone, no matter how cramped your schedule or abundant your stressors may be.
The therapists at ELEOS Psychology Center are here to help you learn and practice the skills needed to simply relax. Relaxation is the direct antidote to stress, which will lead you to a happier, healthier life. By getting into the habit of practicing relaxation techniques, the more apt you’ll be to do these without thinking twice when stress approaches. Defeating chronic stress means combatting its nasty side effects like headaches, depression, high blood pressure and anxiety. While there are many relaxation techniques being practiced today, we at ELEOS believe diaphragmatic breathing, body scanning and progressive muscle relaxation are three sure-fire relaxation techniques that you can start learning today.
Diaphragmatic Breathing (Deep Breathing)
When you think of what body parts are responsible for breathing, your mind may instantly jump to the lungs. However, few people realize that the diaphragm—a large, dome-shaped muscle that sits just below the lungs—is the most efficient muscle for breathing. When you focus on using your diaphragm for breathing, you’ll notice that your stomach expands upon taking a deep breath as opposed to just your chest, or lungs, expanding.
Deep breathing is called such because the lung expansion is happening lower on the body than you would experience with shallow breathing where just your chest would expand. By taking slow, deep breaths through your nose and by using your diaphragm in the process, you slow your breathing rate, use less energy to breathe, and maximize the amount of oxygen that goes into your bloodstream. This slow, conscious breathing interrupts your body’s hurried “fight or flight” response to stress and triggers relaxation.
Diaphragmatic breathing techniques may be practiced while lying down or sitting in a chair. Begin by placing one hand on your chest and another on your stomach as this will enable you to better feel your diaphragm in action. Slowly breathe in through your nose, making sure to use your diaphragm. You should feel your stomach push against one hand while the hand on your chest remains as still as possible with little to no chest expansion. Once you’ve inhaled as much as you can, and your diaphragm is as expanded as possible, tighten your stomach muscles and slowly push the air out through pursed lips.
Inhaling through your nostrils and exhaling through pursed lips forces you to slow the breathing process and trigger relaxation. At first you may feel winded or tired after doing this only a few times, but with more practice, it will become second-nature. Practice diaphragmatic breathing for 5 minutes, three times per day to start. Once you feel stronger and more comfortable, increase this amount and soon you’ll be feeling more relaxed and ready to take on your stressors.
Body scanning is an element of mindfulness. It allows you to take time to feel your body as it is, in any moment, and release feelings of stress and the typical “go-go-go” mentality. With practice, you’ll learn how to pay attention to your body and sensations instead of worrying about causes or solutions to the sensations, which could increase stress. You can practice body scanning for different time intervals, because sometimes you may only have time for a 5-minute scan instead of a 10-minute scan, but even a 30 second scan is useful.
“The body scan trains your mind to be able to move from detailed attention to a wider and more spacious awareness from one moment to the next.” By training your attention to focus on one body part to the next, from your toes to the top of your head, you can help your mind retrain dissociative tendencies. Paying attention to the here and now will help you shed the stress of the past and future. While laying down or sitting in a chair, body scanning makes you aware of the sensations—tension, discomfort, relaxation, etc.—happening in different parts of your body. By actively observing how your body is feeling instead of paying attention to making changes, your body is triggered to relax.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This technique is similar to body scanning in that it will have you paying closer attention to different parts of your body and how they react to tension or relaxation. To begin using this technique, start slowly tensing and relaxing muscle groups, working progressively from your head to your feet. For example, tighten and raise your shoulders for 5 seconds, then slowly release the tension.
Through slow and progressive muscle tightening and release, you will start to become more conscious of the difference between muscle tension and relaxation, i.e., how your body physically feels when it’s stressed versus when it is calm. Noticing how tension flees your muscles while you deliberately relax them will better enable you to recognize the associated feelings of a tensed muscle. With increased practice of progressive muscle relaxation, you’ll soon be able to induce muscle relaxation at the first signs of stress and tensed muscles. You’re training your body to make relaxing muscles a habit when they’re stressed instead of simply remaining tense.
It’s best to practice this in a quiet space, and it can be done while sitting in a chair or even lying down. Start practicing this relaxation technique slowly: Set aside 5 minutes, twice per day. The more you establish the habit of relaxing tensed muscles through progressive muscle relaxation, the more this will become instinct when you need it most in life’s stressful situations.
It’s Time to Relax with ELEOS
Don’t let stressors become overbearing—they should never control your life or happiness. The therapists at ELEOS Psychology Center are here to help you learn how to relax and shed your mind of stressors from the past, present and future. These three relaxation techniques emphasize mindfulness and awareness. We can help you learn how to use these techniques to their fullest and make combatting stress a habit. To start living stress-free with deep breathing, body scanning or progressive muscle relaxation, let’s start talking today.