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Relaxation can benefit your physical and mental health. Using the right techniques can help you unwind and quiet your mind.
Prioritizing relaxation time isn’t always easy. Family, work stress, and other pressures can make it challenging to take a breather and relax.
When you don’t make time for relaxation, your body may start to feel the adverse impact of stress.
While your body and mind can handle small amounts of stress, chronic stress can impact your overall health. Learning how to relax can help you cope better with stress.
Relaxing your body prompts a relaxation response (RR). The RR is the opposite of how you respond to stress, also known as the fight, flight, or freeze response.
RR is both a physical and mental state.
When your body is in relaxation mode, a different part of your nervous system takes effect and works to relieve the impact of the stress response.
As a result, the body starts to release chemicals to:
- lower stress hormone levels
- relax the muscles
- lower blood sugar
- lower blood pressure
- lower heart and breathing rate
- reduce inflammation
- increase the immune response
When you mentally relax, the effort proactively relieves tension and stress in the body.
It’s also possible to relax without consciously thinking about it. For example, you may be working hard and experiencing high stress at your job.
Suddenly, a co-worker says something to make you laugh, and your body may start to unclench and loosen up without you actively trying.
Other ways you might relax include:
- lying down for 30 minutes
- sitting down and doing nothing
- unwinding with friends
- listening to music that relaxes you
- engaging in activities you find relaxing
However your RR is initiated, its positive effects help you manage stress as it comes your way.
It can be hard to handle life’s daily stressors if you’re running on empty. Everyone, including you, deserves to rest to function optimally from day to day.
Relaxation can improve your mental and physical health in many ways.
Lowers blood pressure
Chronic hypertension or high blood pressure can lead to heart disease, increasing your chances of a heart attack and stroke.
A 2018 study involving 58 participants diagnosed with hypertension found that 8 weeks of practicing relaxation exercises effectively lowered their blood pressure.
If you receive a diagnosis of high blood pressure that’s not successfully managed with medication, relaxation techniques may be an alternative treatment option.
But if you have high blood pressure, it’s essential to follow the treatment plan prescribed by your doctor to prevent serious complications.
Reduces anxiety symptoms
If you live with an anxiety disorder, you may find relaxation techniques helpful for managing your symptoms.
In a 2022 review of studies, experts determined that relaxation training and behavioral therapy are equally beneficial in reducing anxiety symptoms.
The same review found that relaxing is as effective as exposure and behavioral therapies for treating panic disorders. Similar results were noted for other anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder.
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Relaxation techniques may help with:
- Pain before and after surgery. Including relaxation techniques as part of the treatment plan may help reduce your pain before and after major medical procedures.
- Pain with headaches. A pilot study from 2016 found that relaxation successfully reduced headache frequency by 45.9% and reduced medication use in 36% of the participants.
- Lower back pain. Making time for relaxing and maintaining a calm state may also help with back pain.
Improved sleep quality
Relaxation training can help treat insomnia and other sleeping disorders. By focusing your thoughts on a peaceful image as you lie down in bed at night, your body may become more relaxed, helping you fall asleep faster.
Labor and childbirth pain relief
Pregnant people often look for nonpharmacological methods to manage pain during labor and childbirth. Reducing stress and anxiety can help manage discomfort and pain from childbirth, including techniques like:
- breathing exercises
- progressive muscle relaxation
- gentle massage
The following relaxation techniques may help instill calm and reduce stress:
- Guided imagery. This involves picturing objects, scenes, or events that you find calming.
- Progressive relaxation. This technique involves tensing different muscles throughout your body and then releasing the tension.
- Hypnosis. With this technique, you will experience a relaxation response when prompted by your chosen non-verbal cue or word. Hypnosis can be performed by a professional or self-taught.
- Meditation. This involves sitting in a comfortable position, focusing on a single word or object, or breathing and blocking out distractions for a certain amount of time.
- Yoga. This exercise focuses on physical posture, breathing techniques, and meditation.
- Breathing exercises. This technique focuses on taking slow and deep breaths, also known as diaphragmatic breathing.
You don’t need a specific technique to relax.
You may respond better to incorporating relaxing activities into your routine, like taking a hot bath or reading a good book. Doing things you enjoy is just as good a way to relax and de-stress.
And taking a moment to relax doesn’t require hours of your time. It can be helpful to take just a few minutes to breathe deeply or meditate.
Relaxation may not come naturally to you. It’s easy to get busy in your day-to-day life and forget to take time for yourself to relax your mind and body.
But being able to relax and manage stress levels is an important way to support your overall health. Chronic stress can have mental and physical consequences, but learning to relax and cope when you feel stressed can help curb the potential effects of too much stress.
If you’re looking for additional resources to help you relax, consider checking out mental health apps like Headspace, which provides guided relaxation and meditation.