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Learning how to relax: Simple relaxation techniques and other stress reduction tips

Learning how to relax: Simple relaxation techniques and other stress reduction tips

Stress is simply a fact of nature—forces from the outside world affecting the individual. Sometimes stress can be positive: exciting and inspiring, looking forward to new opportunities. Other times stress may have a more negative effect: intense mental pressure, muscle tightness, or anxiety and nervousness. 

Your body responds to stress similarly to a physical threat. This response can result in increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, quickened breathing, muscle tightening, and increased perspiration. 

It is impossible to be both anxious and relaxed at the same time. That’s why it’s important to learn how to manage stress and relax when stress is heightened.

Relaxation training is one method for gaining self-control over the autonomic nervous system. Such control has the effects of reducing heart rate, blood pressure, adrenaline flow, digestive acid flow, perspiration, and many other physiological and subjective effects of anxiety and stress

Why Am I Struggling to Relax?

People generally have difficulty relaxing if they are stressed: under deadlines, experiencing stressors, or due to mental health factors. 

Many times when we’re stressed, it can feel like we don’t have time to wind down and relax, and even if we do, we don’t know how to go about it in a way that works for us. However, stress can be as debilitating as it is motivating. It can muddle our thoughts, make us sloppy or too hard on ourselves, putting roadblocks in our way instead of helping us onward.

Relaxation helps to counter the effects of tension and stress. Below are ways you can try to calm and recenter yourself when you need to, so that you can learn how best to manage your stress.

The Importance of Relaxation for Mental Well-Being

Relaxation influences feelings of happiness, healthiness, and contentment by decreasing stress and tension. Stress can pose long term consequences to a person’s physical and mental health. Relaxation skills are not one-size-fits-all. Some techniques focus on breathing while others focus on shifting attention.

Relaxation techniques can help one shift their focus to a less distressing target. This process helps regulate your breathing which can help increase blood flow and lower blood pressure. When a person gets upset their breathing changes and that can affect how they think about something. When you are able to regulate your breathing you are more likely to be able to regulate your emotions.

Expert Tips for Achieving Relaxation

To achieve relaxation, it helps to identify the area of tension and practice activities that lessen its effect. Below are techniques and examples that help achieve relaxation.

  • Grounding techniques: This refers to techniques used to bring you back to the present, such as the Five Senses exercise, also known as the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise. This practice helps to ground you in the moment by making you focus on your surroundings: what you see, smell, hear, etc.
  • Mindfulness techniques: These are practices that increase your awareness to the present moment: what you’re feeling and experiencing. Pay attention to your emotions. Why are you feeling the way you are? Assess how you feel physically. How does your body feel? What sensations can you focus on that help you stay in the present: Sunshine on your face? A cool breeze? Focusing on these sensations can help put things in perspective and lead you to the right approach to relaxation.
  • Body scan: This refers to the practice of noticing physical sensations in the body. It helps you stay present, even when in discomfort, by working to keep you from spiraling due to stress. Focus on your body, from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet. Pay attention to sensations such as itching, tingling tension or tightness. By helping to eliminate blockers like stress, this technique can help lead you to relaxation.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation: This technique allows you to become aware of tension in various muscle groups and relax them one group at a time by tightening individual muscle groups for 5 seconds before releasing. This helps increase feelings of relaxation by decreasing tension.
  • Meditation: This refers to a mental exercise that trains attention or an altered state of consciousness (ASC). Techniques like guided meditation, which provides an explanation of the process during the practice, are great introductions into meditation. 

Not all of these techniques will work well for everyone, so try a few before committing completely to a specific practice. You may find that some provide you more relaxation than others.

What Is the Best Way to Deeply Relax?

Each of the practices above are great for reducing stress and helping people relax. However, as everyone functions differently and has different reasons why they struggle to relax, there is no true “best way” to relax. That’s why it’s best to try multiple practices, as stated above.

The best way to narrow down which practices might help you more than others is to target the issue creating tension and resolve it. This will greatly reduce stress levels and even increase your capacity for energy. 

If you are still having trouble relaxing after trying different techniques, get advice from a mental health professional about your struggles. They can help you piece together what might be going wrong and how you can adjust practices or find new ones that work for you and your symptoms.

How to Relax My Mind from Overthinking

Most relaxation techniques are helpful for stopping overthinking. Meditation, mindfulness, and grounding techniques can be especially helpful when you feel compelled to obsess over something. Some examples of simple ways to refocus your mind and help you stop overthinking are: 

  • Focus on what is within your control. The amount of things you can be aware of can be overwhelming, overtaking your mind and making it very hard to relax. When we focus on the things within our control rather than what is not, it can help us form a more realistic view of our problems and circumstances.
  • Challenge unhelpful thoughts. Start by assessing your situation. Then, explore your thoughts and feelings about it. Next, the most important part: What evidence supports that thought? Once you are done considering that thought, think of a more positive way you can look at the situation.
  • Utilize worry time. Reserve about 10 minutes of your day to worry. The idea is that if you experience uncomfortable thoughts throughout the day, you can give yourself permission to worry about it with the condition that it occurs at an appropriate time. That way, it doesn’t have to affect every moment of your day, and you can get on with living your life.
  • Practice acceptance. Practicing acceptance involves a nonjudgmental attitude. Similarly to focusing on what you can control, acceptance helps you come to terms with things that you cannot change, allowing you to use the energy that you had been using on worry or frustration to do more productive or meaningful things.

Overthinking is usually a product of stress and anxiety, which will inhibit your ability to relax. By alleviating your racing thoughts, it’s likely your ability to relax will increase.

How to Relax Your Mind and Body from Anxiety

To calm down and decrease feelings of anxiety, it helps to neutralize the perceived threat that your anxiety is reacting to. The tricky part is distinguishing the validity of the threat. When that “threat” is a project or assignment, anxiety can often be relieved by completing the task that causes it. Other times, though, anxiety is a bit trickier to reduce.

Anxiety is a feeling experienced when someone anticipates impending danger or misfortune, whether it be real or perceived. Though anxiety is essentially a protection mechanism, it can be overactive, causing the mind to see a non-threatening situation as dangerous. Because of this, for some, things like social gatherings or picking the right outfit can be extremely stressful, despite their lack of true danger.

Still, identifying the cause is the best way to find a solution. To find out what is causing your anxiety, take a moment to slow down and see if you can identify what feelings or thoughts might be triggering an anxious response. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can help you slow down, assess your thoughts, and increase your awareness of bodily sensations that indicate that you were triggered by something. 

Once you identify what is setting you off, if the techniques for relaxation listed above seem to be doing little to help you calm down, talk to a mental health professional about your symptoms and triggers. They will be able to lead you to answers about why this is happening and make more informed decisions about what tools will work best to calm you down.

How to Relax Your Mind and Body from Stress

To calm oneself and reduce stress, it helps to decrease the amount of demands on you and increase your access to help and assistance. Stress specifically refers to what someone feels when the demands placed on them exceed their perceived ability and access to help. 

If that isn’t possible, there are other ways to reduce stress, such as: 

  • Engaging in creative outlets such as art and music. This can help with relaxation and stress management
  • Meditation is a helpful practice because it reminds participants that they have a choice in where they put their focus. 
  • Group relaxation classes can be helpful because it promotes socialization and support through understanding.

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Ways to Relax at Home

There are many methods you can use to calm your mind and body at home. Here are some examples of relaxation techniques you can try in any room of your home:

  • Kitchen: Mindfully drink tea. Stay present as you engage in the scent and sensations of a favorite warm beverage.
  • Living room: Try a grounding exercise. Open a window and engage 5 senses in surroundings. Consider identifying 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. Let it bring you into the here and now.
  • Office: Diaphragmatic breathing. Take deep belly breaths; observe the breath as you inhale through your nose, and feel it all the way down into your diaphragm under your lungs. Follow it again as it travels back up and exhaled through the mouth.
  • Bathroom: Take a warm bath. Taking a warm bath or shower helps calm physical and emotional sensations, loosening muscles and relieving tension.
  • Bedroom: A guided meditation. Put your headphones on, close your eyes and follow along with motivational messages to empower or colorful worlds of exploration free of conflict or dangers.

The home is meant to feel like a safe place—a space that is your own. If it feels difficult to relax at home, think of ways you might be able to personalize your space, adding elements that make you happy or adjusting others that aren’t to your liking. Whether it’s hanging art, painting the walls, or even just organizing your space, making a space your own can make it much more peace-giving and relaxing to be in.

Incorporating Relaxation into Your Daily Routine

A ritual or regular routine is a great way to incorporate relaxation in your day. If you can identify the area of tension or stress that is bothering and start doing a relaxation practice to mitigate or lessen its effects, you can create a routine that is mindful of its intended benefits. 

For example, if you find yourself dreading the start of a day, it may be helpful to create a bedtime ritual that organizes or lessens the stress in the morning. This can include having an action plan for the following day which can include taking a shower or bath the night before, meal planning, or preparing clothes in advance—anything that lessens the amount of mental or emotional work you’ll have to do when you’re stressed.

Creating a routine that caters to these stress points and triggers will help you move through life more easily, giving you more relaxation and less stress throughout your day.

Seeking Professional Help for Stress Management

There are multiple ways to search for professionals who can help you find ways to deal with your stress. If stress is your main concern, it would be best to look for a licensed mental health professional who specializes in stress management

However, if there is another condition you believe could be causing your stress, look for a professional that specializes in that. Not to worry, though—most mental health professionals have more than one specialty, so if you find out where your stress is coming from during the course of therapy, it’s possible that the same therapist could treat that condition as well. 

How Thriveworks Counseling Services Can Support Your Relaxation Journey

Our therapists are well-trained and can guide you through relaxation and mindfulness exercises, as well as help you work through any psychological barriers you might have that keep you from relaxing. 

If you want accessible, personalized care from expert providers, go online or call a local office to book a session with a Thriveworks therapist today. We make it easy to find the specific care you need. 

  • Clinical writer
  • Editorial writer
  • Clinical reviewer
  • 1 sources
  • Update history
Laura Harris, LCMHC in Durham, NC
Laura Harris, LCMHCLicensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor
See Laura's availability

Laura Harris is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC). She specializes in anger, anxiety, depression, stress management, coping strategies development, and problem-solving skills.

Christine Ridley, Resident in Counseling in Winston-Salem, NC

Christine Ridley is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who specializes in adolescent and adult anxiety, depression, mood and thought disorders, addictive behaviors, and co-dependency issues.

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Hannah DeWittMental Health Writer

Hannah is a Junior Copywriter at Thriveworks. She received her bachelor’s degree in English: Creative Writing with a minor in Spanish from Seattle Pacific University. Previously, Hannah has worked in copywriting positions in the car insurance and trucking sectors doing blog-style and journalistic writing and editing.

We only use authoritative, trusted, and current sources in our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about our efforts to deliver factual, trustworthy information.

  • Can, Y. S., Iles-Smith, H., Chalabianloo, N., Ekiz, D., Fernández-Álvarez, J., Repetto, C., Riva, G., & Ersoy, C. (2020). How to relax in stressful situations: A smart stress reduction system. Healthcare, 8(2), 100.

We update our content on a regular basis to ensure it reflects the most up-to-date, relevant, and valuable information. When we make a significant change, we summarize the updates and list the date on which they occurred. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  • Originally published on August 19, 2013

    Author: Adam Bagley

  • Updated on August 4, 2023

    Author: Hannah DeWitt; Laura Harris, LCMHC

    Reviewer: Christine Ridley, LCSW

    Changes: Updated by a Thriveworks clinician in collaboration with our editorial team, elaborating on what relaxation techniques are, how they work, why it can be difficult to relax, how to manage stress effectively, what techniques can help for different types of stress and anxiety, how to stop overthinking, how to find professional treatment, and ways to incorporate relaxation techniques into one’s daily routine; article was clinically reviewed to double confirm accuracy and enhance value.

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