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Relaxation techniques are free or low cost, pose little risk, and can be done anywhere. But it takes regular practice to truly harness their stress-relieving power.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
In addition to helping you feel relaxed, massage can also reduce the stress and anxiety that can cause muscle tension. Relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation, visualization and deep breathing can help you stay relaxed during your massage and afterward, too. Health care providers and complementary and integrative health specialists can teach you relaxation techniques, but you can also learn them on your own.
Progressive muscle relaxation, or PMR, is a form of autogenic relaxation that involves tensing and then relaxing your muscles one group at a time. The goal is to become aware of the difference between tense and relaxed muscles, so that you can “cue” yourself into a state of relaxation at the first sign of tension during your day.
This technique was developed by Edmund Jacobson in the 1920s. He discovered that tensing and then releasing muscles in the body helped to lower mental activity, which then lowered heart rate and respiration rates. This is an active relaxation technique, and it’s best done in a quiet place without distractions. You can begin by tense one group of muscles, for example your upper thighs. When you’ve tensed the muscles for about 30 seconds, then begin to relax them. Do this for each muscle group, working your way from your feet up to your head and neck.
When you complete this exercise, you should be able to feel your stress levels decrease significantly. The idea is that tense muscles relay to the brain that you’re stressed, and this creates a vicious cycle of stress and anxiety. This relaxation technique helps break the cycle and can lead to a deeper, more restful sleep at night.
You can do PMR while you’re lying down or sitting in a comfortable chair, but it’s more effective if you are lying down because it allows you to work through the entire muscle group. It can take a while to get through each group, so don’t rush it. Once you’ve finished the whole routine, congratulate yourself for your accomplishment and enjoy the feeling of deep relaxation. It’s important to remember that, like any skill, the more you practice these relaxation techniques, the better you will become at them.
Relaxation techniques are therapeutic exercises that decrease stress and anxiety. They can be facilitated by health care professionals or self-help modalities such as audio tapes, books and smartphone apps. Practicing them regularly helps people become more resilient to everyday stresses and can be helpful in decreasing symptoms of chronic illness, such as heart disease or pain.
Systematic relaxation techniques are different from individual activities such as listening to relaxing music, having a nap or taking a warm bath, in that they help the client experience the systematic, deliberate switching from sympathetic stimulation (performance and activation reaction) to parasympathetic stimulation (relaxation and recuperation reaction). Typically, these techniques also facilitate a decrease in muscle tension.
A massage therapy session can be a great way to try out several relaxation techniques and find the ones that work best for you. A professional massage therapist can provide you with a variety of techniques and can teach you how to practice them at home.
One of the most common and easiest to learn relaxation techniques is progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). This technique involves tensing and then relaxing various muscles, starting with the feet and progressing to the head. It is recommended to practice this technique at the first sign of anxiety or stress in order to get the body used to relaxing immediately.
Another relaxation technique is guided imagery, which uses mental images that are associated with a sense of calmness or wellness to trigger the physical relaxation response. These images can be created in the mind or through a visual stimuli such as a video, book or magazine. Alternatively, the person may use their senses to imagine a peaceful environment such as an ocean or a comfortable armchair.
Some patients experience emotional discomfort during certain relaxation techniques, but this is rare and should not discourage the use of these techniques. If a particular technique is not working for you, talk to your health care provider about alternate options. They can help you choose a relaxation technique that is right for you and will fit your lifestyle and abilities.
The simple act of breathing has a lot to do with our stress levels and health. Relaxation techniques that focus on slow, deep breathing have been shown to help reduce stress hormones and calm strong responses to anxiety, fear or panic. These methods are generally free or low cost, pose little risk and can be done at home. Many different books, videos and apps offer relaxation exercises for the whole body or specific muscle groups. Finding the one that works best for you can take some experimentation, however.
Relaxation techniques are based on the belief that our health and mental well-being are closely linked. They involve refocusing the mind and gaining awareness of the body, and can be used by those who struggle with mental illness as well as those who don’t. They are usually performed alone, though some require the assistance of a trained professional, such as a complementary or integrative health specialist or mental health provider.
Commonly used relaxation techniques include progressive muscle relaxation, autogenic training, guided imagery and biofeedback-assisted relaxation. Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and releasing various muscle groups of the body. Autogenic training combines visual imagery and body awareness. Guided imagery focuses on imagining objects, scenes or events that invoke feelings of calm and relaxation. Biofeedback-assisted relaxation uses feedback provided by an electronic device that measures heart rate or muscle tension to encourage the production of the relaxation response.
Deep breathing, sometimes called diaphragmatic breathing, is a basic relaxation technique that can be practiced almost anywhere. It is a natural, easy-to-learn activity that can be helpful in times of crisis. It is also recommended by some cancer patients as a nondrug method for pain relief during chemotherapy.
People who live busy lives often do not find time for relaxation, which is a problem because it has been shown to improve both physical and mental health. A few minutes of focused relaxation may be enough to improve a person’s mood and increase energy. Those who struggle with mental illness, such as depression and anxiety, should discuss whether relaxation techniques are appropriate for them.
Aromatherapy involves the use of fragrant essential oils from flowers, herbs and trees as a form of alternative medicine. It is used for stress reduction and can help to increase relaxation. The oils are typically inhaled or applied to the skin through a massage. Some common aromatherapy oils include Roman chamomile, ylang-ylang, lavender and tea tree oil. While some people claim that aromatherapy can improve relaxation during a massage, the effectiveness of this approach is not well understood.
One study found that aromatherapy did not significantly reduce participants’ ratings of stress or cognitive performance during a stressful task. However, other studies have shown that certain aromas can promote a feeling of calmness and may help to decrease feelings of anxiety.
The type of massage you have can also impact your experience and results. The various massage types involve different amounts of pressure – Swedish massage is gentle and stretches ligaments and tendons to alleviate physical and emotional tension; deep tissue massage uses more pressure and is used to treat specific problems.
Regardless of the massage type, a good experience depends on your willingness to relax and enjoy it. Many massage therapists will suggest that you arrive at the treatment with an empty mind, and you should take some time to relax and prepare for your massage before the appointment. For example, it is a good idea to avoid eating or drinking anything before your massage.
You should also try to schedule your massage when you will have some time afterwards to relax, and to take advantage of any post-massage services offered by the spa or salon. It is not a good idea to go right back into work, run errands or make plans immediately afterward. This can prevent you from reaping the full benefits of your massage and may even cause you to feel a little groggy or sleepy. Instead, try to give yourself a chance to recover from the stress of your massage by relaxing for an hour or two and by taking some time to wind down. This will help your body to maintain its lowered levels of cortisol and increase the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which help to stabilize your mood.