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For many of us, it is enough to relax on the sofa and watch some TV at the end of a stressful day to be able to relax.
However, this does little for many people, and most importantly and for everyone, it is certainly not capable of reduce the harmful effects of stress.
Rather, it is necessary to activate that is the natural response of "relaxation of the body", that is a state of deep relaxation that restrains stress, slows breathing and heart rate, lowers blood pressure and brings the body and mind back into perfect balance.
But how is this achieved?
Contrary to what you may be thinking, we can all follow some relaxation techniques, alone or with the help of an app that can "guide" us to relax. However, it is important to remember, from this introductory part, that there is no single relaxation technique that works for everyone. And, since we are all different, the right technique is the one that suits you, that fits your lifestyle and is able to focus your mind to elicit the desired relaxation response.
This means that in order to find the right relaxation technique, you will need to go through a path of some trial and error to find the technique (or techniques) that work best for you.
Once the best technique has been identified, this will be a valid ally to help you reduce stress and theanxiety every day, improve sleep, increase energy and mood and contribute to better health and general well-being.
Read also: How to relax on the weekend
Relax with deep breathing
Let's start by remembering that the deep breathing is a simple yet powerful relaxation technique. It's easy to learn, can be practiced almost anywhere, and provides a quick way to control stress levels.
Deep breathing is the cornerstone of many other relaxation practices, and can be combined with other relaxing elements such as aromatherapy and music. All you need is a few minutes of time and a place to sit quietly or unwind.
Once this is done, put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Inhale through the nose. The hand on the belly should rise. The hand on the chest should move very little.
Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as possible as you contract your abdominal muscles. The hand on the belly should move inward as you exhale, but the other hand should move almost imperceptibly.
Continue to inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Try to breathe in enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls accordingly. Count slowly as you exhale.
If you find it difficult to breathe from the abdomen while sitting, try lying down. Put a small book on your stomach and breathe so that the book rises as you inhale, and falls as you exhale.
Now, not everyone knows why this breathing technique can be useful. The answer is simple: the breathing from the belly stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from the head along the neck, through the chest, to the colon. It is an important nerve for activating one's relaxation response, reducing heart rate and blood pressure and lowering stress levels.
Progressive muscle relaxation
The progressive muscle relaxation It is a two-step process in which different muscle groups in the body are systematically stretched and relaxed.
With regular practice, this relaxation technique will give you an intimate familiarity with what tension, as well as complete relaxation, feels like in different parts of the body, and can help you react to the first signs of muscle tension that accompanies stress. And when your body relaxes, your mind will relax too. But how is it practiced?
Start by loosening your clothes, taking off your shoes and getting comfortable. Take a few minutes to inhale and exhale with slow, deep breaths. When you are ready, shift your attention to your right foot. Take a moment to focus on how this muscle group “feels”, and then slowly tense your foot muscles, squeezing as hard as you can. Hold your position for a count of 10.
Then, relax your foot. Focus on the tension flowing away and how your foot feels when it releases the contraction. Stay in this relaxed state for a moment, breathing deeply and slowly.
Then, shift your attention to your left foot. Follow the same sequence of muscle tension and release. Move slowly upwards through the body, contracting and relaxing the different muscle groups.
A little practice may be needed at first, but try not to stretch muscles other than those expected.
Relax with visualization
There display, or the guided image technique, is a variant of traditional meditation which consists in imagining a scene in which one feels at peace, free to let go of all tension and anxiety. Choose the environment that calms you most, whether it be a tropical beach, a favorite childhood place or a quiet wooded valley.
You can practice viewing alone or with a special app. You can choose to follow this technique in silence or use listening aids, such as relaxing music or a sound machine or recording that matches your chosen setting: the sound of ocean waves if you have chosen to view a beach, for example.
It is important that during this technique you are able to enjoy the feeling that your worries are drifting as you slowly explore this very personal resting place. When you are ready, gently open your eyes and return to the present. Don't worry if you sometimes lose sight of where you are. This is completely normal!