How can relaxation techniques counteract stress?

Learning a relaxation technique -- the natural unwinding of the stress response -- can help with stress. A stress management specialist can teach you some relaxation techniques, including:
  • Deep breathing. When you're under stress, your breathing becomes shallow and rapid. Taking a deep breath is an effective technique for winding down. Inhale through your nose slowly and deeply to the count of 10, making sure your stomach and abdomen expand but your chest does not rise. Exhale through your nose, also to the count of 10. Concentrate fully on the breathing and counting. Repeat five to 10 times. The goal is to take three inhales and three exhales per minute, for a total of three deep breaths.
  • Relax your muscles. Sitting anywhere, relax your shoulders, let your arms drop to your side, rest your hands on top of your thighs, relax your legs, and don't forget your jaw muscles, which often tense with stress. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. You can also do this lying in bed. Beginning with the top of your head and progressing downward, tense and then relax the muscles in your body one by one while maintaining a slow, deep breathing pattern.
  • Passive stretches. Allow gravity to help you relax and stretch your muscles. Relax your neck and let your head fall forward to the right. Then let it drop even more as you breathe slowly. Do the same with your shoulders, arms and back.
  • Visualization. Remember a relaxing time or place. Close your eyes for a few minutes and picture it in your mind.
  • Meditation. The goal of meditation is to quiet your mind, to relax your thoughts and increase your awareness. Meditation can reduce your heart rate, blood pressure, adrenaline levels and skin temperature. It involves concentrating on a simple image or sound while sitting in a comfortable position away from distractions.
  • Electromyographic Biofeedback (EMG). During this totally painless process conducted in a healthcare professional's office, you learn to reinforce your relaxation skills using methods such as those described earlier. EMG measures the electrical activation that signals muscles to contract. EMG training helps you relax overly contracted muscle groups to help reduce tension. As training continues, you learn to use the information from the instruments to discriminate between tension and relaxation. By repeating this process, you learn to associate the sound with the relaxed state and to achieve this state of relaxation by yourself without the machine.
Eric Olsen
Relaxation techniques such as yoga, tai chi chuan, meditation, breathing exercises, and prayer counteract the harmful effects of stress. All of these practices lower blood pressure, produce alpha waves in the brain -- the mental state of relaxation -- and slow the heart rate and breathing. Studies at the University of California School of Medicine in San Francisco found that relaxation techniques even enhance the immune system's ability to fight infection, and that T-lymphocytes (the body's natural "killer" cells that attack invading viruses and bacteria) increase in number after meditation or other relaxation practices.
Lifefit: An Effective Exercise Program for Optimal Health and a Longer Life

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Lifefit: An Effective Exercise Program for Optimal Health and a Longer Life

An easy-to-follow programme for lengthening and improving lives. More than an exercise guide, this text is an effective tool for making meaningful lifestyle decisions to benefit long-term fitness. In...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.