Relaxation is an important part of maintaining health and wellbeing, and being able to calmly deal with life’s stresses. It improves your mental health and gives the body a chance to take a break, releasing muscle tension (that you may not even be aware of), lower blood pressure, improve digestion (the body diverts its focus back to digestion and other maintenance and repair processes instead of being in an alert/alarm phase. Massage, exercise, meditation, Tai Chi, reading books, craftwork, guided imagery and yoga are all methods of achieving relaxation. Choose something that you enjoy, that gives you a sense of satisfaction and that you feel best relaxes both your body and mind.
During relaxation exercises the nervous system is also given the opportunity to relax. A simple technique is as follows. Sit in a comfortable chair or in a comfortable position on the floor. Next, say to yourself that you are going to relax completely. Begin with your scalp and work, bit by bit, down to your toes. As you imagine each part of your body, imagine it relaxing completely. Remain in the relaxed state for several minutes. You will be amazed at how relaxed you can make yourself feel. Having done this several times you will be able to distinguish between relaxed and tense states. Try incorporating it as part of a daily routine. Being able to sense when you are becoming tense is a very useful skill, giving you the opportunity to stop unproductive stressed reactions earlier, avoiding headaches, muscle aches and the other side-effects of high stress. If you find it difficult to take your mind off stresses and tensions, try saying the words ‘relax’ or ‘sleep’, or even ‘relax and sleep’ over and over to prevent other thoughts from entering your mind.
Another method is to concentrate on the feelings and sensations that you have. Other methods might focus your attention on a particular body part such as the navel, or focusing on a significant object or person. Other relaxation techniques involve practicing slow, deep breathing. You can try chanting a mantra at the same time. In India the most popular of these is om, which refers to God. The idea is to take a deep breath and then exhale and utter om at the same time. This is repeated for several minutes and is likened to an internal massage.
A final method is differential relaxation. A simple process where you learn to relax different muscles whilst others are being used. By analyzing which muscles you could relax during everyday activities such as walking, you can reduce your tension and anxiety levels, leaving you with a lot more energy at the end of the day.
Breathing Exercises for Relaxation
Breathing is thought to be one of the most effective techniques for reducing stress, as it affects the tension in your muscles, oxygenates your body and influences feelings and thoughts.
For breathing exercises to be effective, a person must –
- Find a suitable location, away from distractions where they can sit comfortably.
- The body must be positioned so it is free from any strains, particularly in the back and neck.
- The person must breathe slowly and deeply. Deep breathing means that the air should be taken down into the abdomen.
- Air should be taken in through the nose and blown out through the mouth.
- Breathe slowly in to the count of five, then exhale to the count of six.
- Continue for two or more minutes.
You may find it useful to consider what changes you feel in your body after doing this or to ask the person you are helping to consider how they feel afterwards.
Humour and Stress Relief
Research has shown that laughter can have health benefits from reducing food cravings, increasing our threshold for pain, strengthening the immune system, healing and reducing stress. Why does laughter reduce stress?
- Physical release – Laughter can lead to an emotional and physical release, as does crying. Sometimes we can cry and laugh at the same time – “cry with laughter”. This helps release emotions.
- Hormones – laughter can help reduce stress hormones like epinephrine/adrenaline and cortisol, dopamine and growth hormones. It can increase levels of positive hormones like endorphins. Laughter can increase antibody producing cells that can increase the effectiveness of T-cells, which improve our immune system.
- Distraction – laughter us to focus away from our stress, anger and negative emotions.
- Internal workout – Laughter makes use of our diaphragm, abdominal muscles, shoulders and leads to relaxed muscles after.
- Social benefits – laughter can help us to interact with others, reduce our stress, reduce their stress, improve our interactions with others.
- Perspective – people can sometimes see things as a threat or challenge. Humour can make us see things in a different way – in a humorous way, so making it more positive and less threatening.
Using laughter to reduce stress
We can reduce our stress through laughter in a range of ways. These may include –
- Watching funny films and TV programmes.
- Laughing with friends and family.
- Fake it! Studies have shown that even a fake smile or laugh can have positive effects, so the more we smile the more we feel positive.
- Try to have more fun in your life.
- Try to see more humour in your life.