Relaxation


Relax – to be calm, unwind, loosen up, de-stress, slow down, chill out. Relaxation can help increase your sense of calm and reduce anxiety and stress. Relaxation techniques can slow heart and breathing rates, reduce blood pressure and decrease muscle tension and is a good tool for stress management. Different techniques work for different people and can include anything from deep breathing, laughter, positive thinking, visualisation, meditation and mindfulness.

relaxationPractising relaxation can:

  • enhance energy
  • increase immunity
  • promote more restful sleep
  • increase concentration
  • lessen mood swings
  • help reduce anxiety and stress

How to relax?

Relaxation doesn't have to take hours. Five minutes of dedicated relaxation helps promote a calmer mind and body. Try some of the ideas below and find what works for you.

In this video Dr Craig Hassed from Monash University talks about mindfulness and how it can promote relaxation, feelings of calm and benefit your health overall.

Click here to listen to a podcast from Dr Craig Hassed as he takes listeners through a exercise in mindfulness.
 
Meditation and mindfulness

There is some evidence to suggest meditation may help reduce:

  • anxiety
  • stress
  • blood pressure
  • chronic pain
  • insomnia

Mindfulness is about increasing your ability to stay calm and focused in the present moment rather than worrying about the past or future. Research has shown mindfulness to be effective in controlling stress and problems with mood.[1]

Mindfulness meditation starts with the following steps:

  • Slow breathing
  • As an unhelpful thought comes into your head, you acknowledge this is a thought, nothing more, and let it go The aim is not to pay it loads of attention, fight it, or 'buy' into it , rather to become an observer of your thoughts
  • Thoughts will continue to flow into your head and the aim is to try and increase the time and space and time between the thoughts

 

Positive thinking

Positive thinking and 'affirmations' can:

  • counter negative thoughts
  • improve confidence
  • help you to relax

Affirmations are positive statements you make to yourself. They need to be present tense, positive, personal and specific, e.g.:

  • I can do this
  • I am valuable
  • I am loved
  • My friends care
  • It's okay to relax
  • It's okay to care

 

Laughter

When you laugh, your body produces natural chemicals that:

  • lower blood pressure
  • lower heart rate
  • increase immune system function
  • reduce stress
  • Browse through books at your local book shop 
  • See a show
  • Laugh with your children, your family or your friends
  • Get out a DVD such as Something's gotta give
Physical activity

Research indicates that just 10 minutes of exercise is all that is needed to put people in a more positive mood.

Exercise releases endorphins that give you a feeling of happiness, it keeps cortisol (a stress hormone) in check and helps your mind to relax.
Rhythmic exercise such as running, walking, rowing or cycling is most effective at relieving stress and promoting relaxation because you can also focus on the repetition in your body's movement and also breath to match the movement.

 

Hobbies Hobbies can offer distraction from daily routines and tensions and open your mind to life's possibilities Become involved in a hobby like calligraphy, design, antique restoration, art galleries, archery, croquet, singing, chess, salsa dancing, camping, cycling, judo, cooking, film collecting – there are more possibilities than you might know!

 

Pleasure Every day do something you enjoy and do something for someone else

Make time in your day for activities like reading, listening to music, gardening, sewing, taking a bath, lighting a candle, using a lovely hand cream, walking through a flower shop, taking a friend for coffee, giving a loved one a kiss. 

Download our weekly activity diary (PDF) to help you take time for yourself.

 

Visualisation or guided imagery This involves imagining a scene in which you feel at peace and are free to let go of tension and anxiety

Use each of your five senses and imagine:

  • a beach, a forest, a hill, a retreat you have been to
  • a candle and focus on the movement of the flame to anchor your thoughts and the scent to feel its warmth
  • a river to visualise sending your worries downstream

 

Yoga

Research suggests yoga can:

  • improve mood and general sense of wellbeing
  • counteract stress
  • reduce heart rate and blood pressure
  • improve muscle relaxation

There are a few key things you would learn in a yoga class:

  • Awareness of breath: working with your breathing to calm the nervous system and to enhance self-awareness
  • Physical postures: to build strength and flexibility and release tension stored in the muscles
  • Relaxation: taking the benefits of the physical activities into the mind to become calmer

 

Relaxation exercises
  • Progressive muscle relaxation is about learning to feel the difference between tension and relaxation
  • This awareness helps you to recognise and respond to the first signs of the muscular tension that accompanies stress
  • Deep breathing is a simple but powerful relaxation technique that can be done anywhere, anytime
  • In eastern philosophies, mastery of the breath is the key to controlling the body's life force energy

With every inhalation, you draw energy into your body.

With every exhalation, you let go of tension in your body.

  • The technique involves methodically tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in the body
  • A variation is to simply focus on the sensations in each part of your body so you become aware of where the tension is: the neck, shoulders, and head are common stress points
  • Deep breathing helps focus you on the present moment by concentrating on the 'in and out' of your breaths
  • Drop your shoulders and breathe in for 7 seconds and out for 11 seconds (use the store 7/11 to remember). Know that 3 of these breaths lowers the tension level in your body
  • Deep breathing can be combined with aromatherapy and music

 

Pets

Research indicates the following benefits of having a pet:

  • A beautiful distraction
  • Something to have and to hold
  • Something to be responsible for
  • A buddy to exercise with
  • Do not overlook the benefit of touching and talking with your pet
  • If you don't have a pet, offer to mind or walk one

References

  1. Henderson et al. The effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on psychosocial outcomes and quality of life in early-stage breast cancer patients: a randomised trial. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2012 Jan;131(1):99-109. doi: 10.1007/s10549-011-1738-1. Epub 2011 Sep 8.

Last updated 01 August 2017 — Last reviewed 10 March 2014

This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at March 2014.

Subscribe To our newsletters