In order to counteract the harmful effects of stress, you need to activate your body’s relaxation response (the exact opposite of the stress response). During the relaxation response, your body undergoes a number of physiological changes.
These include a reduced breathing and heartbeat rate, less use of oxygen in the body, and improved blood flow through the circulatory system. Also, blood lactate levels, which are associated with anxiety attacks, go down significantly.
There are a number of techniques and exercises recommended by psychiatrists that you can use to activate your body’s relaxation response, including visualization, deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, and a two-step technique.
These relaxation techniques are simple to learn. Whichever technique works for you, it is recommended that you set aside 10-20 minutes, twice a day, to practice it.
1. The two-step technique
Whenever you are feeling stressed, doing these two steps can help you to restore a sense of peace and calm.
Step 1. Choose a calming focus. This can be a sound (“om”), your breath, a short prayer, or a positive word (like “peace” or “relax”) or phrase (such as “breathing in calm, breathing out tension”). Do this repeatedly aloud or silently while inhaling or exhaling.
Step 2. Let go and relax. Stop worrying about how you are doing. If you notice that your mind has wandered, just take a deep breath or repeat the word “thinking, thinking” to yourself and slowly restore your attention to your focus.
2. Deep Breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing is a useful technique that helps to slow down your heartbeat, stabilize blood pressure, and stimulate the relaxation response. To perform this technique, you need to find a quiet and comfortable place to sit or lie down. Begin by observing your breath.
Take a normal breath then a slow, deep breath. You should expect to feel the air entering your nose to feel as though it is moving downward into lower belly. Allow your abdomen to expand fully, then slowly exhale. Alternate normal and deep breaths. Place one hand on your abdomen, right below your navel.
Your hand will rise about an inch every time you inhale and drop an inch every time you exhale. Your chest will also rise a bit in tandem with your abdomen. Ensure to relax your belly for it to expand fully during inhalation.
Try practicing this technique every day for about 15-20 minutes. You can also try shorter bouts for a few minutes anytime you feel anxiety setting in.
Guided imagery, which evokes calming scenes in the mind, is another technique that helps to induce relaxation. To perform this technique, find a quiet, comfortable place to sit. Start by taking deep, even breaths for a few minutes as you clear your mind.
Then bring to mind images that you find calming and relaxing. Whether it is a place or experience, these images will help to break the chain of everyday thought. Try to think about what you might see, smell, hear and feel.
This will help you to immerse yourself in this imaginary setting. In case stressful thoughts start to invade, examine them, and try to refocus on the image.
4. Mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness is a state of mind that is achieved by focusing your attention on whatever is happening in the present and acknowledging it without judgment. Most therapists and physicians believe this to be a very effective therapeutic tool.
Mindfulness is usually acquired through meditation, a systematic process of regulating your attention by directing your focus to your breathing, an image, or a phrase.
According to scientific research, mindfulness meditation techniques can help to provide stress relief, treat heart disease, and address symptoms like chronic pain, high blood pressure, sleep problems, and gastrointestinal difficulties.
Therapists have started using mindfulness meditation to help treat depression and anxiety disorders, particularly phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and generalized anxiety and can help you unwind.
It is normal for distracting thoughts and sensations to occur during mindfulness meditation. By acknowledging these thoughts and feelings, you can objectively observe how they interact. This will help you to adjust negative patterns.
Mindfulness offers a wide range of other benefits, as well. One important benefit is finding pleasure in simple everyday experiences, for example, taking in natural beauty or enjoying a deliciously ripe peach.
By taking a step back from all the chaos and training yourself to focus on the present moment, you are less likely to find yourself overwhelmed by worries about the future or regrets about the past.