How can I learn to relax and reduce stress?

January 10, 2014

There are a number of ways that psychologists recommend for helping people to relax and reduce stress.  These techniques have been found effective in research studies. Below are brief descriptions and links to taped instructions for several of the most common methods.

A number of approaches to relaxation involve exercises to control our breathing. Specifically, they promote breathing that is deep and regular, in contrast to the short, irregular breathing that is so common when we are very stressed. A breathing exercise that takes about 20 minutes can be found here.

Another approach to relaxation that helps many people is to learn how to relax our muscles since muscle tension often serves as a cue that we are tense. Eliminating the tenseness reduces stress and adds to our sense of relaxation.  A muscle relaxation exercise that takes about 10 minutes can be found here.

Distressing thoughts and mental states also contribute to feeling stressed.  One way to reduce tension and stress is to fill the mind with ideas and images that are calm and relaxing. This can involve mental images or visualizations of calm settings. A visualization exercise that takes about 12 minutes can be found here. Another based on a walk in the forest is here and one imagining a beach is here.

It may take some trial and error to find which technique works best for you.  Don’t give up if your first efforts are less successful than you would like.  Keep trying until you find ways to control your feelings of tension.

It also takes practice to use relaxation techniques effectively. Get in the habit of spending 15-20 minutes each day engaging in the relaxation method or methods that work best for you. With practice, you will find that whenever you feel tension developing, you can quickly and even automatically start the relaxation process. That is, these techniques can prevent the onset of tension once they are learned and practiced.

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