Five Techniques To Help You Relax
There are a lot of relaxation techniques available to help people relax and a lot of variations even in the same technique. Most people want help to relax when they are having trouble getting to sleep so most relaxation techniques have sleep as their ultimate goal but some of these techniques can also be used to help people calm down when they are wound up.
The first relaxation technique listed here, deep breathing, is often taught to people as part of an anger management training programme as it can be a useful tool to help people remain calm and in control of themselves when their anger flares up.
1 – Deep Breathing
When we concentrate on our breathing we give the rest of the body a chance to relax itself. Deep breathing is a great way to relax the body and get everything into synchrony. Relaxation breathing is an important part of yoga and martial arts for this reason. The goal here is to clear your mind by focusing on your breathing and this can help reduce the stress in your body making it easier to either stay in control of your emotions, or fall asleep, or both.
- The exercise works best if you can lie on your back but you can also use it if you can get comfortable in another position such as sitting, or even standing, if you really need to.
- Slowly relax your body. You can use the progressive relaxation technique described below to do this.
- Begin to inhale slowly through your nose if possible. Fill the lower part of your chest first. You will know you have done that if your stomach rises. Then fill the middle and top part of your chest and lungs. Be sure to do this slowly, over 8–10 seconds.
- Hold your breath for a second or two.
- Then quietly and easily relax and let the air out slowly over 8-10 seconds.
- Wait a few seconds and repeat this cycle.
If you find yourself getting dizzy then you are overdoing it. Slow down.
You can also imagine yourself in a peaceful situation such as on a warm, gentle ocean. Imagine that you rise on the gentle swells of the water as you inhale and sink down into the waves as you exhale.
You can continue this breathing technique for as long as you like until you either fall asleep or you feel relaxed enough to resume doing whatever you were doing before taking time out to do this.
2 – Progressive Relaxation
This technique is often most useful when you make a recording of the instructions beforehand. You can tape these instructions, reading them slowly and in a gentle, soothing voice, and leaving a short pause after each one then play the recording back to yourself whenever you need to relax. If you don’t find the sound of your own voice very soothing you can ask someone whose voice you do find soothing to read them for you and record their reading.
If you don’t want to record the instructions you can memorize them instead and run through them silently in your head when you want to relax.
Choose a quiet, comfortable place to lie down, usually your bed as you are less likely to be disturbed then and this technique is most often used to try and get to sleep but you can use it anywhere you feel it is suitable.
- Lie on your back and close your eyes.
- Feel your feet. Sense their weight. Consciously relax them and sink into the bed. Start with your toes and progress to your ankles.
- Feel your knees. Sense their weight. Consciously relax them and feel them sink into the bed.
- Feel your upper legs and thighs. Feel their weight. Consciously relax them and feel them sink into the bed.
- Feel your abdomen and chest. Sense your breathing. Consciously will them to relax. Deepen your breathing slightly and feel your abdomen and chest sink into the bed.
- Feel your buttocks. Sense their weight. Consciously relax them and feel them sink into the bed.
- Feel your hands. Sense their weight. Consciously relax them and feel them sink into the bed.
- Feel your upper arms. Sense their weight. Consciously relax them and feel them sink into the bed.
- Feel your shoulders. Sense their weight. Consciously relax them and feel them sink into the bed.
- Feel your neck. Sense its weight. Consciously relax it and feel it sink into the bed.
- Feel your head and skull. Sense its weight. Consciously relax it and feel it sink into the bed.
- Feel your mouth and jaw. Consciously relax them. Pay particular attention to your jaw muscles and unclench them if you need to. Feel your mouth and jaw relax and the tension slide off them into the bed.
- Feel your eyes. Sense if there is tension in your eyes. Sense if you are forcibly closing your eyelids. Consciously relax your eyelids and feel the tension slide off the eyes.
- Feel your face and cheeks. Consciously relax them and feel the tension slide off into the bed.
- Mentally scan your body. If you find any place that is still tense, then consciously relax that place and let it sink into the bed.
3 – Toe Tensing
This one may seem like a bit of a contradiction to the previous one, but, by alternately tensing and relaxing your toes you actually draw tension from the rest of the body. Try it!
- Lie on your back, close your eyes.
- Sense your toes.
- Now pull all 10 toes back toward your face. Count to 10 slowly.
- Now relax your toes.
- Count to 10 slowly.
- Now repeat the above cycle 10 times.
4 – Guided Imagery
In this technique, the goal is to visualize yourself in a peaceful setting, real or imaginary. The setting can be a place you remember being safe and happy in or a place you imagine you would feel safe and happy in. Some people have “happiest day of my life” memories they can use but, for someone else, it might need to be an imaginary place like a bubble on the moon, a palace under the sea, or some shop with a gazillion dollar bank balance to spend. The place and circumstances are not important. What is important is that it be somewhere you feel safe and happy.
- Lie on your back with your eyes closed.
- Imagine yourself in that safe, happy, place. Maybe you are on a sunny beach with the ocean breezes caressing you, swinging in a hammock in the mountains, at your fifth birthday party, playing with your dog in your own backyard, or out buying your dream house or car with your tatslotto winnings. Any place you find peaceful and relaxing is OK.
- Imagine yourself there in as much detail as you can. See and feel your surroundings, hear the sounds, smell any scents that might be there such as flowers or a barbecue, feel the warmth of the sun or the tingle of snow and any other sensations that you find. Picture the car or house you are buying in vivid detail including colours, accessories, location or furnishings. If you love bartering imagine yourself getting the car or house for a bargain price the likes of which nobody has ever achieved. If you’d rather be a big spender imagine yourself saying you’ll have seven of them – one for each day of the week. The idea is to relax and enjoy the exercise.
You can return to this place any time you need to. If you only use this place when trying to fall asleep the more you use it the easier you will find it to fall asleep. Over time the imagery will become a cue for your waking mind to go to sleep.
Some people prefer to visualize something boring. This may be a particularly boring teacher or lecturer, co-worker or friend. If that describes you then you might prefer to “count sheep”, or just count, whatever works for you. The goal is to occupy your mind with something that will allow it to wind down and relax. With your mind relaxed your body can also relax and sleep will be able to come to you.
5 – Quiet Ears
If none of the other techniques work for you this one might. Listening to the sounds of your own body might calm you where using your imagination might not.
- Lie on your back with your eyes closed.
- Place your hands behind your head. Make sure they are relaxed.
- Place your thumbs in your ears so that you close the ear canal.
- You will hear a high-pitched rushing sound. This is normal.
- Listen to this sound for 10–15 minutes.
- Then put your arms at your sides, actively relax them and go to sleep.
There are many variations of these exercises and you should feel free to look for others and try them out. The main thing is to find what works for you and use it as often as needed.