In our everyday lives, there are lots of reasons to stress about – a busy work schedule, spending enough time with our family and friends as well as finding time for our hobbies and self-care. A lot of us are constantly running at full speed and often we forget ourselves in the process. We need to find a balance and relax. But how do we face all this tension – how do we beat stress and how can we relax our mind?
Why is relaxation important?
If we are constantly tense due to stress in our everyday lives and do not manage to recover or regenerate in relaxation phases, it is possible that stress hormones such as adrenaline, dopamine, and cortisol are released permanently. In evolutionary terms, these stress hormones serve to release energy reserves – e.g. raise blood pressure and pulse rate as well as prepare us for a “flight or fight” – situation. Through physical exercise, these hormones are broken down again, blood pressure drops and we relax. However, since flighting, fighting, and hunting no longer play a role in our (professional) everyday lives and therefore physical exercise is subordinate, the stress hormones are often not reduced. The consequences of these constant high levels of stress hormones in our bodies are: rising blood pressure, digestive and metabolic problems, and tension or sleep disorders. If this is a permanent condition, studies show that heart and circulatory diseases, depression, and diabetes are more likely to occur.
What are the goals of relaxation techniques?
Relaxation training has many advantages and aims at the following:
- relaxation and calmness
- regeneration and recovery
- short-term shutdown
- better falling asleep
- more self-control
- a conscious self-regulation
Where and how to relax best?
In order to relax as well as possible, it is helpful to create conditions that promote relaxation. The following tips can help you to create a relaxing environment:
- avoid disturbing stimuli (with the help of a quiet room, earplugs or closing your eyes)
- adopt a posture that promotes relaxation (e.g. a pleasant, relaxed lying position or a passive sitting position by leaning back on a comfortable chair)
- wear comfortable clothes that do not bother you, pinch, or otherwise distract you
- make sure you are in a pleasant environment (e.g. if it is too cold, you tremble and cannot relax your muscles properly).
Relaxation Techniques: The first steps to relaxation
Relaxation can be learned as well as other specific skills. One can train certain relaxation techniques and integrate them specifically into everyday life. It is important to first understand and analyze your own situation better in order to know when relaxation is important for you and where to start.
- Think about the situations in which you are particularly tense and stressed: Are there certain situations or circumstances in your everyday life that cause particular tension or cramps? Which situations and circumstances in your everyday life are particularly stressful for you?
- Think about whether you already use certain relaxation techniques in your everyday life: Do you sometimes relax consciously? Are there routines or activities that make you relax? Or are there even people who can help you relax? All these are important resources that you can consciously apply and use in your everyday life.
After you have identified your starting point and know when it is important for you to relax, you can train some relaxation techniques and integrate them into your everyday life. Furthermore you can add already existing techniques.
Relaxation techniques and exercises at a glance
Relaxation methods serve to reduce tension. Relaxation can be learned by training to use it specifically in stressful situations, but also in everyday life. The decision for or against a relaxation method depends on the situation, previous experience, and the problems of each individual. Often you have to try several techniques to find the right one for yourself.
Breathing is the basis of our life and it plays an important role in relaxation. With deep breathing, the heart rate is lowered, the muscles slacken and blood pressure drops. Breathing thus contributes to a fundamental part of relaxation. If we breathe too superficially in the so-called high breathing, this can even lead to pathological breathing. The differences to deep breathing seem small, but they are crucial for our health and relaxation. Do you breathe healthy? Find out more about healthy deep breathing here.
Mindfulness has historically evolved from Buddhism and is a form of meditation practice. Being mindful means to experience yourself and your surroundings consciously – without judging. The main purpose of mindfulness training is to improve one’s own perception and to pay conscious attention to one’s own thoughts, feelings, and environment. Mindfulness exercises help to focus on the here and now and thus stop the spiral of negative thinking. Through the mindfulness exercises, one consciously perceives thoughts and feelings and thereby automatically distances oneself from one’s feelings as a silent observer. This can lead to more relaxation.
For example, a walk in the forest can become mindfulness training if you consciously pay attention to your surroundings without evaluating them.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
Progressive muscle relaxation was invented by Edmund Jacobsen. It includes the conscious tensing and releasing of the muscles. Gradually different parts of the body and muscle groups are tensed for 5-10 seconds and then released. Starting with the face and head, continuing with the arms and hands, the upper body, back and belly, legs, and finally the feet. The method has been proven to help us relax and is also effective against depression.
Yoga is millennia-old philosophical teaching that originated in India. It combines a series of mental and physical exercises. There are many different forms of yoga, which focus on and promote different breathing techniques, meditations, physical exercises and postures. The regular practice of yoga reduces the symptoms of anxiety, especially panic attacks, as well as perceived stress. Especially the breathing exercises help to regulate high blood pressure. Online you can find many videos about different yoga techniques, just try some for yourself.
Autogenic training is about putting yourself in a relaxed state through self-influence. This form of relaxation is regarded as a kind of self-hypnosis, in which one comes to rest through mental focus. The autogenic exercises are usually performed in a sitting or lying position. The core of the exercises is to influence one’s own state with formulaic sentences like “I am completely calm”.
Test the effect of progressive muscle relaxation today. Tense your entire body for 15 seconds. Consciously perceive the tension in your body during these seconds and then let go. How do you perceive the relaxation of the muscles? Can you imagine using this exercise in everyday life to anchor the feeling of tension and relaxation?
Which relaxation methods help you especially in everyday life?
If you have any feedback, questions or additions to the article, please feel free to message us here or on instagram (@psychologyjungle). The anonymous comment function allows for an exchange of content. Make sure you treat everyone with respect, even when we are on the Internet 🙂
References (click to expant)
Bregenzer, M. (2015). Wirksamkeitsnachweis und Indikationen des Autogenen Trainings-eine Metaanalyse nach den Cochrane Kriterien (Doctoral dissertation).
Cramer, H., Lauche, R., Klose, P., Lange, S., Langhorst, J., & Dobos, G. J. (2017). Yoga for improving health‐related quality of life, mental health and cancer‐related symptoms in women diagnosed with breast cancer. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (1).
Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry research: neuroimaging, 191(1), 36-43.
Jorm, A. F., Morgan, A. J., & Hetrick, S. E. (2008). Relaxation for depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (4).
Klatte, R., Pabst, S., Beelmann, A., & Rosendahl, J. (2016). Wirksamkeit von körperorientiertem Yoga bei psychischen Störungen–Systematische Literaturübersicht und Metaanalyse. Dtsch Arztebl Int, 113, 195-202. DOI: 10.3238/arztebl.2016.0195.
Mayer, J., & Hermann, H. D. (2015). Mentales Training: Grundlagen und Anwendung in Sport, Rehabilitation, Arbeit und Wirtschaft. Springer.
McCall, M. C. (2013). How might yoga work? An overview of potential underlying mechanisms. Journal of Yoga & Physical Therapy, 3(1), 1.
Petermann, U., & Pätel, J. (2009). Entspannungsverfahren. In Lehrbuch der Verhaltenstherapie (pp. 243-254). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.
Piet, J., Würtzen, H., & Zachariae, R. (2012). The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on symptoms of anxiety and depression in adult cancer patients and survivors: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 80(6), 1007.
Smith, C. A., Levett, K. M., Collins, C. T., Armour, M., Dahlen, H. G., & Suganuma, M. (2018). Relaxation techniques for pain management in labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (3).
Vorkapic, C. F., & Rangé, B. (2014). Reducing the symptomatology of panic disorder: the effects of a yoga program alone and in combination with cognitive-behavioral therapy. Frontiers in psychiatry, 5, 177.