There are many ways to cope with stress, and everyone has their own system for managing stress. Some ways are better (exercise), some are unhealthy (cigarettes) and some are pleasing (listening to the ocean). Unfortunately, to achieve deep relaxation we must invest some time and effort in learning a relaxation technique.

 

relaxingRelaxation techniques for relieving stress

Stress relief techniques or relaxation methods are the most efficient and long-term approach for coping with and fighting against stress. Relaxation techniques are approaches where we elicit a relaxation response, which is the opposite of a stress response. The most known relaxation techniques are meditation, autogenic training, biofeedback, hypnosis, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, some forms of prayer and several other approaches, all of which elicit a relaxation response.

Learning a relaxation technique takes some time and effort, but it is worth the wait because of the benefits deep relaxation holds. Stress makes us anxious and nervous, and we never feel relaxed even when we are on vacation. To break this vicious circle of stress, we must cope with it on a daily basis. However, we must first practice relaxation for a month or two to get real relief from stress, because relaxation techniques are long term solutions.

Find a course or a therapist that will guide and teach you a relaxation technique, because correct practice, motivation and persistence are crucial for success. You will have to practice two or three times per day for 10-15 minutes, but don't worry: it's fun and relaxing.

 

What are other ways of coping with stress?

How to Get Relief from Stress | How to Get Rid of StressExercise

Regular exercise is the best way to 'burn' stress as well as calories, and get instant relief. Jogging for 45 minutes is enough to make us feel vigorous and relaxed. Swimming, riding a bike, spinning classes and even fitness all do the trick too. In fact, regular exercise, a relaxation technique and the right nutrition are the keys for a healthy life. If you are out of shape try walking for half an hour every day for a month. After some time walk for an hour and with time you will be able to start jogging. (Remember this applies only if you are healthy and not overweight! Otherwise you need to get medical supervision before you start exercising.)

 

Get enough sleep

Sleeping enough is a basic prerequisite to cope with stress. If you are sleep deprived you are under stress. Getting 7-8 hours of sleep per night is a good rule of thumb. Getting enough sleep restores our bodies from the previous day and prepares us for the next. If you have trouble falling asleep, practicing a relaxation technique is the healthiest way to get a good night's sleep.

 

Drink enough water

This is simple. Enough water lowers stress levels. Drinking enough water is the easiest precaution for kee-ping stress levels low. We won't prevent stress by drinking water, but we will keep it as low as we can. You must drink at least one glass of water every hour.

In another article we present the 10 best ways to relax and get relief from stress, have a look and enjoy!

The Relaxation Response | Relaxation Response TechniquesA relaxation response is a term to describe several physiological changes in our bodies, which are the opposite of a stress response. A relaxation response differs from sleep or resting, and can be achieved through several different relaxation techniques (autogenic training, progressive muscle relaxation), meditation, prayer, hypnosis and yoga. During a relaxation response several physiological changes occur. Our blood pressure drops, breathing rate decreases, heart rate slows down, and muscles relax. Oxygen consumption decreases and a drop in lactate levels are noted (high levels are associated with anxiety and low with tranquillity). Brainwave patterns also change and more low-frequency alpha, theta and delta waves are measured, which are connected with rest and a relaxed state.

A relaxation response differs from a state of sleep. During sleep a decrease in metabolism occurs in one to five hours, whereas during a relaxation response this decrease is seen in after just three to five minutes. Brainwave patterns are also not the same during sleep as they are during meditation or relaxation.

Relaxation response: meditation, prayer, autogenic training, hypnosis, etc.

Herbert Benson started research into the relaxation response in the late 1960s. The first technique he observed was transcendental meditation and he was astonished by the results of this technique. He quickly realized his observation of the relaxation response was an unresearched area of the medical field. Although his first research was based on transcendental meditation, he remained open to other possible ways to elicit the relaxation response. Soon he and his colleagues observed several different approaches where this response could be and was present. Their research discovered there are two elements to every meditation and prayer that elicit a relaxation response. First a silent mental repetition of a comfortable sound and second a passive disregard of thoughts that intrude. Soon he discovered there are also western approaches that produce the relaxation response, such as autogenic training, progressive muscle relaxation and hypnosis. Interestingly when Schultz created autogenic training (around 1920s) he observed heaviness in the limbs, a slowed heart rate, slowed breathing, a warm abdomen and cool forehead. These were actually observations of a relaxation response and autogenic training is essentially focuses on the consequences of a relaxation response. This focus is achieved by a silent repetition, a slow heartbeat with a passive attitude of whatever thought may interfere with this phrase. Schultz called this passive concentration, and the similarity of autogenic training and meditation is easily noticed.

 

relaxation-response-blood-pressureHypertension

Benson and his colleagues researched the effect of the relaxation response on hypertension and found that it can lower the blood pressure of patients when stress is the predominant source of high blood pressure. The method also proved useful in those cases where white coat hypertension was the main reason for hypertension.

 

The immune system

Stress can affect our immune system and immunological diseases can be stress related. Since the relaxation response reduces stress it is a valuable tool in fighting diseases related to the immune system, and relaxation response techniques are especially useful in fighting autoimmune diseases. For example, TaiChi and meditation, in combination with traditional medications, appear to be beneficial for patients with arthritis: the affected individuals seem to live better lives and may have better long-term clinical outcomes. In systemic sclerosis, RR (relaxation response) techniques have been recommended as a complementary therapy, due to their reported ability to shorten Raynand attacks.

 

Cancer

The relaxation response helped women with breast cancer who were going through neoadjuvant chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy. They had better immunological scores and less circulating tumor necrosis than a control group. Relaxation frequency and self-rated imagery quality were also positively correlated with natural killer (NK) cell activity.

 

Coronary problems

Relaxation response techniques have been demonstrated to be helpful in the treatment and prevention of atherosclerosis and endothelial dysfunction. Coronary artery disease is also associated with stress and relaxation response techniques have been successful in terms of symptomatic status, exercise capacity, risk factor profile, including a reduction in body weight, serum total cholesterol, LDL, triglyceride levels accompanied by an increase in HDL.

 

Myocardial infarction

Stress also has the potential to actively trigger Myocardial infarction (MI) and the relaxation response (RR) counteracts the negative effects of activated stress responses and can be helpful in the treatment of this cardiac event. Positive effects have been described for short- and long-term outcome, and the RR has further been shown to enhance the physical and psychic status of patients after rehabilitation (following MI). After all, relaxation therapy consequently appears to improve the long-term prognosis of the cardiovascular system: it decreases future ischemic events and fatal MI.

 

Anxiety, depression

The relaxation response is highly recommendable in treating anxiety or depression. Several RR techniques have been shown to help either anxiety or depression or both. It has been suggested that several different mechanisms play a part in alleviating these mental disorders. For now it remains a useful option for those with mild depression or mild to moderate anxiety.

 

insomnia-relaxation-responseInsomnia

Many people with insomnia have rapid brain wave patterns that are typical when a person is under stress. Recent studies by psychologist Gregg Jacobs and his colleagues have shown that insomnia patients taught the relaxation response, together with other behavioral techniques, can learn to fall asleep more easily. On average, these patients fell asleep four times more rapidly after treatment, and their brain wave patterns slowed as well.

 

What to expect from a relaxation response?

Persistent practice of autogenic training or other RR technique can bring feelings of greater control over your life, and leads to a sense that emotions can be brought under your control. One psychological benefit is a greater sense of self-assurance. The physical benefits are decreases in stress-related conditions and their symptoms.

 

Some positive effects of relaxation response

Physiological effects

  • Stabilizes blood pressure
  • Lowers heart rate and respiratory rate
  • Reduces stress hormones
  • Slows the aging process
  • Improves mental functioning
  • Improves brain wave coherence
  • Improves the strength of the immune system
  • Increases serotonin which influences moods and behavior. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression, headaches and insomnia.
  • Enhances energy, strength and vigor.

 

Psychological effects

  • Decreases stress, anxiety, anxiety attacks and depression
  • Decreases the fear of death
  • Increases the joy of living
  • Increases positive emotions and overall attitude toward life
  • Increases self-confidence

 

Cognitive effects

  • Increases concentration and strengthens the mind
  • Increases memory

Relaxation and Depression Methods | Relaxation and DepressionStress and depression are undoubtedly connected. Stressful life events often cause depression. Some symptoms of stress such as a bad mood, irritability, insomnia and poor concentration overlap with depression symptoms, which further confirms a similarity of connection between stress and depression. However, there are people who do not develop depression, although they are under high stress levels or suffer from stressful life events.

 

Evidence

Many studies have been done to find if relaxation methods can treat depression. The conclusion to most has been: depression can be treated with relaxation if depression is mild to moderate. But knowing if depression is mild to moderate is a difficult task even for doctors.

Using a relaxation technique as the primary treatment for depression is not a common practice. This does not mean it cannot be a successful way to fight this disorder, but usually patients require medication treatment or psychotherapy. However, using a relaxation method combined with medication or psychotherapy is beneficial, especially where stress is the underlying factor in developing unipolar depression (absence of mania or hypomania).

Using relaxation for treatment of bipolar patients is not recommended. However, if it is done in a controlled environment by a qualified psychiatrist along with medication treatment, some may benefit from lowered stress.

Using both medication and relaxation for treatment of unipolar depression is better than using either one individually. Having a method for lowering stress is always useful in cases of depression, and it can be also a good aid when patients are coming off of medication (if a doctor and a patient agree).

Relaxation and Insomnia (Relaxation for better sleep)

Relaxation and Insomnia Therapy | Relaxation and InsomniaThere are many possible reasons for having troubles with sleeping or having insomnia. Relaxation techniques are proven to help insomnia that is not related to any other condition, or so-called 'primary insomnia'. For many patients who have difficulties sleeping, the cause is either side effects of prescription medicine or a psychiatric disorder. There also many other reasons for having insomnia, which can vary from pain to hormonal problems. In these cases relaxation may or may not help achieve better sleep. While the results here vary from person to person, it is a good idea to first try to treat the primary medical condition and not only the insomnia. Since relaxation techniques lower stress people with secondary insomnia tend to benefit from using relaxation therapy in any case.

 

Natural choice

For primary insomnia relaxation training is a very good non-pharmacological choice to treat insomnia or try to improve quality of sleep. Sedatives and previous generation sleeping pills cause addiction, and people very easily build up a tolerance to these types of medication, which then demand an increased dosage. Making things even worse is the fact that if the medication is stopped, one's insomnia may become even worse than in the beginning. Therefore a natural self-administrated method, such as relaxation with no noticeable side effects, is an unprecedented advantage for people suffering from insomnia. It is also a way for sufferers to get off of medication and use only relaxation response exercises to treat their problems with sleeping.

 

How does Relaxation Help People with Insomnia?

The key to success is eliciting a relaxation response, which is common to all relaxation techniques. The relaxation response reduces stress gathered during the day and this results in many positive changes not only to insomnia but also to conditions such as anxiety, moderate depression, panic attacks, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels or skin conditions, asthma or epilepsy and many others.

The exact manner in which the relaxation response helps people with these conditions still needs many years of research and is probably very complex, with many different mechanisms of action. However, it seems stress reduction plays a dominant role in helping people who use such relaxation techniques.

 

Will it Work for Me?

People with insomnia can expect positive changes in their sleep if they practice any relaxation method. Here it should be emphasized the relaxation response must be elicited at least three times per day for 10-15 minutes for several months in order to see the full effect that relaxation holds for each individual. Do not be discouraged by this fact, since many notice the first improvements after as little as one week. The other positive factor of relaxation is its effects on other areas of life. You will not only sleep better or longer, but you will also have other positive effects on your wellbeing, such as: building more confidence, being less stressed, having less tension headaches or migraines, etc.

The best choice is to choose a relaxation method and use it for the rest of your life. This may sound intimidating, but today's life styles now demand a relaxation method for each individual. The good thing is that when we get relaxed we feel better, we are in a better mood and usually happy. Who does not want that? And it only takes half an hour a day!

There are many relaxation techniques available and you just have to find one that you feel will work for you.

relaxation-for-better-sleepThe most known relaxation techniques are:

Do not be discouraged if you don't see results within a week. Patience here is very important and after three months of practice you must compare your new condition to the one you had prior to practicing relaxation therapy in order to notice true improvement. As you can see, insomnia can be treated with relaxation, leading to better sleep and an overall higher quality of life. However, there is no guarantee; you have to try it out to see it if it works for you!

Best Relaxation Methods | Best Relaxation TechniquesThere are several commonly used relaxation techniques or methods of relaxation, all of which elicit a relaxation response. A relaxation response is the opposite of a stress response and enables deep relaxation with all the benefits of being relaxed. Relaxation activates the parasympathetic nervous branch and slows down the sympathetic nervous branch, which has recuperative effects on our bodies. Any relaxation technique or relaxation training demands some dedication and time in order to be mastered. In the long run, using a relaxation method has various positive health effects.

Physiological benefits:

  • lower blood pressure,
  • lower heart rate,
  • lower respiration rate,
  • lower cholesterol levels,
  • less tension headaches and migraines,
  • lower stress hormone cortisol levels,
  • lower norepinephrine levels,
  • boosting of immune system,
  • regulation of blood sugar and more...

(These are only physiological benefits, for even more benefits, see our article on Relaxation Response).

Which relaxation technique or training method is right for you? The answer to this question is short and simple: any of them, because 'something' is better than nothing. The best way to start is to take a course, where you will have guidance, motivation and supervision. If you try it on your own you will see how easily we abandon a new habit or technique, even if we could really benefit from it. Regular practice twice per day is the most difficult task in starting a new relaxation technique. The methods themselves are more or less easy to learn, but regular practice is where the problem is hidden.

 

Relaxation methods or techniques

These are some of the most known relaxation techniques or structured ways of relaxing, and are presented alphabetically below.

  • Autogenic training
  • Biofeedback
  • Hypnosis
  • Meditation
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Yoga


To achieve health results you must practice each relaxation technique at least two times per day, one of which is in the middle of the day. This practice is necessary, because to lower stress in our life we need to break the stress circle during the day. In this way we can lower stress levels in the long run. The most effective time to practice a relaxation method is (first) 2 hours after we wake up, (second) after work and (third) before going to bed. We can have a (fourth) additional session (at noon or in the evening), but not more than that.

 

Autogenic training or autogenic therapy

Autogenic therapy is a relaxation training that was developed in Germany by J. Schultz in 1920s. The six standard exercises focus on various parts of the body, and by passively creating mental contact with these parts, we are able to achieve deep relaxation. Autogenic training is easy to learn and focuses on phrases, which allow even deeper relaxation, than using just a passive mental attitude and a mantra.
Positive aspects: deep relaxation in just 10 minutes, broadly researched and proven effective, systematically taught and supervised

 

biofeedback-realxation-methodsBiofeedback

Biofeedback uses several different reading meters, which monitor body's information such as temperature, heart rate, brainwaves, skin conductance, respiration rate, etc. These readings allow a person to control the described physiological processes and manipulate them in a way that benefits different health issues, lowers stress and induces relaxation.
Positive aspects: several modalities (different physiological readings) allow broad health applications, which are often unique; using biofeedback with other techniques (e.g. autogenic training) is common

 

Hypnosis

Hypnosis elicits a relaxation response similar to other relaxation techniques, and today is also used to treat depression, anxiety or any other stress related problems. At first the use of hypnosis was more directed to behavior or habits, and it was even used by Freud, who later abandoned the technique. Today it can be successfully applied to any stress related problem. However, hypnosis is still seen as a state where we are more suggestible to changes in our behavior. Autogenic training uses the same principle; where instead of a hypnotic state uses an autogenic state (with affirmations), in which we are more susceptible to making positive changes in our lives.
Positive aspects: it can be self-induced the same as autogenic training or progressive muscle relaxation

 

Meditation

There are so many meditation techniques available and so many ways of meditating it is impossible to describe it as a single field with similar characteristics. Nevertheless we can say that any meditation technique elicits a relaxation response, which is common to all relaxation methods. Every meditation or relaxation technique results in its unique EEG measurement and therefore is, in a way, different. The most researched meditation technique is probably transcendental meditation, which uses a pleasant sounding mantra to achieve a meditative state. The health benefits of meditation techniques can easily be attributed to the elicitation of a relaxation response.
Positive aspects: a wide variety of choice of meditation techniques; some techniques are free, but you will probably still need guidance at first

 

Progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is a relaxation method that was developed in 1920s by Edmund Jacobson. It is different from meditation or autogenic training, where the passive mental attitude shifts to a relaxation response. In progressive muscle relaxation a practitioner tenses the muscles for 10 seconds and then releases them for 25 seconds. Observing the relaxation after tensing the muscles is where the relaxation response mechanism does its part. This technique is slightly different, but still holds the power of a relaxation response.
Positive aspects: different technique, which relaxes the whole body part by part

 

Yoga

yogaYoga is a 5000 year old Indian discipline using meditation, body exercises, and breathing to achieve harmony with oneself and the environment. To achieve this, action, emotion and intelligence must be balanced. Through breathing techniques and exercises in different body poses, you develop awareness of the body. The exercises improve circulation in the body and general health and breathing techniques prepare the mind for meditation. Using yoga has many health benefits, including the lowering of stress. It does however take a long time to master. There are six branches of yoga

  • bhakti yoga
  • hatha Yoga
  • jnana yoga
  • karma yoga
  • raja yoga
  • tantra yoga

Positive aspects: a whole body technique, with meditation; guided courses

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