Relaxation Techniques

When stress overwhelms your nervous system, your body is flooded with chemicals that prepare you for "fight or flight." This stress response can be lifesaving in emergency situations where you need to act quickly. But when it’s constantly activated by the stresses of everyday life, it can wear your body down and take a toll on your emotional health

For many of us, relaxation may mean vegging out in front of the TV at the end of a stressful day. But we probably know that this does little to help us feel better! No one can avoid all stress, but you can counteract its detrimental effects by learning a simple relaxation technique which puts the brakes on stress and brings your body and mind back into a state of equilibrium. Further, the exercises below can be fitted in in 10 minutes and almost anywhere. Try and do twice a day if you can, especially during tense times

What the relaxation technique delivers:

  • your heart rate slows down
  • breathing becomes slower and deeper
  • blood pressure drops or stabilizes
  • muscles relax
  • blood flow to the brain increases

In addition to its calming physical effects, the relaxation response also increases energy and focus, combats illness, relieves aches and pains, heightens problem-solving abilities, and boosts motivation and productivity. Best of all, anyone can reap these benefits with regular practice

Listen to the podcast


text of podcast is below

Quick relaxation: deep breathing This can be done quickly when you feel the pressure is rising. You also need to do this before you go into the longer progressive muscle relaxation technique


The key to deep breathing is to breathe deeply from the abdomen, getting as much fresh air as possible in your lungs. When you take deep breaths from the abdomen, rather than shallow breaths from your upper chest, you inhale more oxygen. The more oxygen you get, the less tense, short of breath, and anxious you feel

  • Sit comfortably with your back straight. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach
  • Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise. The hand on your chest should move very little
  • Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little
  • Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls. Count slowly as you exhale
  • When you can do this easily then try counting for 3 before breathing in again

If you find it difficult breathing from your abdomen while sitting up, 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.

watch this space for a podcast of me taking you through the exercises

Progressive muscle relaxation

Below is a classic relaxation exercise that has been used extensively as it works so well

All you really need is a few minutes and a place to stretch out. It is best not done just before going to sleep as if you are tired at the end of the day, you will just fall asleep still feeling tense!

Progressive muscle relaxation is a two-step process in which you systematically tense and relax different muscle groups in the body. With regular practice, it gives you an intimate familiarity with what tension—as well as complete relaxation—feels like in different parts of the body. This can help you to you react to the first signs of the muscular tension that accompanies stress. And as your body relaxes, so will your mind.

as your body relaxes, so will your mind

Practicing progressive muscle relaxation

Consult with your doctor first if you have a history of muscle spasms, back problems, or other serious injuries that may be aggravated by tensing muscles. You can do it lying down or sat in a chair.

Start at your feet and work your way up to your face, trying to only tense those muscles intended.

  1. Loosen your clothing, take off your shoes, and get comfortable.
  2. Take a few minutes to breathe in and out in slow, deep breaths, using the deep breathing exercise above first if you have the time.
  3. When you’re ready, shift your attention to your right foot. Take a moment to focus on the way it feels.
  4. Slowly tense the muscles in your right foot, squeezing as tightly as you can. Hold for a count of 10.
  5. Relax your foot. Focus on the tension flowing away and how your foot feels as it becomes limp and loose.
  6. Stay in this relaxed state for a moment, breathing deeply and slowly.
  7. Shift your attention to your left foot. Follow the same sequence of muscle tension and release.
  8. Move slowly up through your body, contracting and relaxing the different muscle groups.
  9. It may take some practice at first, but try not to tense muscles other than those intended.

Muscle relaxation sequence

  1. Right foot, then left foot
  2. Right calf, then left calf
  3. Right thigh, then left thigh
  4. Hips and buttocks
  5. Stomach
  6. Chest
  7. Back
  8. Right arm and hand, then left arm and hand
  9. Neck and shoulders
  10. Face: smooth forehead, lips, jaw

If you have time, a deeper, more thorough technique involves clenching each muscle/muscle group as strong as you can, then let go and do the same but clench less strongly, then finally clench only just using your mind, feel the difference between tense and relaxed!