Looking for effective relaxation techniques for anxiety? If so, this article is for you. Anxiety can feel like a death grip that refuses to let go, bringing with it fear and worry. You might wake up with troublesome thoughts or experience physical symptoms throughout the day.
Our thoughts, both conscious and subconscious, fuel our anxious feelings. When we learn how to catch our thoughts, we can reduce the effects of anxiety. A counselor can help you pinpoint these intrusive thoughts. In the meantime, you can practice relaxation techniques for anxiety to reduce stress and calm your mind and body.
What are relaxation techniques?
Relaxation techniques are processes or methods for reducing stress and anxiety and easing your mind and body from the tension. Once you adopt relaxation techniques for anxiety, you can use these lifelong skills to control anxiety and stop panic attacks.
Most of the relaxation techniques for anxiety shared below are low-cost or free. Several are easy to learn without relying on a counselor and can be done daily or as needed.
How do relaxation techniques help with anxiety?
Relaxation techniques bring our minds back into the present. Often, we allow fear and worry about the future or regrets from the past to fill our thoughts. The mind is a powerful weapon. When we do not catch our negative thoughts, the anxiety can manifest physical symptoms.
Have you ever felt worried about something to the point that you felt short of breath? Have you ever trembled, experienced chest tightness, headaches, body aches, or upset stomach when anxious? These are physical symptoms of stress.
Unfortunately, without proper treatment and stress reduction practices, uncontrollable anxiety can lead to more serious complications, such as rapid weight gain or loss, eating disorders, obesity, Type II diabetes, and heart disease.
Popular relaxation techniques for anxiety.
As you read through the various relaxation techniques, consider trying one at a time. You may want to practice one for three to four weeks until you feel confident in its execution. Some techniques, like the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique, require practice to remember the steps in order.
The more you use relaxation techniques, the easier it will become to recall what to do when you are in the middle of an anxiety or panic attack. If a strategy does not seem to work, move on and try a different technique. You are never locked into one method. Use all the following strategies as you see fit. A counselor may suggest additional techniques.
Deep breathing.Often when we worry or feel afraid, our breathing becomes rapid. This shallow breathing makes things worse as we deprive our brains and parasympathetic nervous system of oxygen. When you practice deep breathing techniques, you bring life-giving oxygen to the brain and cells.
Your body and mind begin to relax. You might notice how your muscles release the tension. You may not have been aware that you have been holding onto tension. Use this time to let go.
There are several variations to deep breathing practice, but you can start by pausing when you feel anxious and closing your eyes. Place your hand on your diaphragm, located below the lungs, so that you can feel your breath as it fills your lungs completely.
Take a deep breath through your nose, filling the lower portion of your lungs. Hold your breath for a few seconds and then exhale through your mouth. Be intentional and try to relax your muscles as you exhale. Repeat as needed.
Progressive muscle relaxation.
Have you ever laid on your back and noticed how tense your muscles seem? Perhaps you feel a tightness in your lower back or hamstrings. Maybe your tension lies in your shoulders, neck, or hips. Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that allows you to take inventory of your body and adjust.
To practice progressive muscle relaxation, lie on your back on a bed, mat, or floor. Take a deep breath, pause, and then release. At the same time, starting with your head, tense a specific body part and then release the muscle as you exhale.
For example, tense your shoulder muscles as you take a breath, then focus on releasing that tension as you breathe out. Continue scanning your body from head to toe. Remember to focus on your hands and feet.
Yoga and tai chi.Yoga and tai chi are popular forms of stretching and movement exercises in the Western world. Although both practices started in the East, people in the West have adopted the movements and poses for the stretching benefits. Older people who practice either yoga or tai chi find that they improve their balance which helps to reduce falls.
Yoga and tai chi also keep you limber, making everyday movements easier. For example, if you regularly practice yoga or tai chi, you may find it easier to pick things up off the floor and reach above your head. These fluid-like movements can remind us of moving through water, slowly and intentionally. The poses and movements naturally reduce our anxiety as we connect with our breathing.
5-4-3-2-1 coping technique.
The 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique is a method used to ground you in the present during an anxiety or panic attack. As you follow the steps, you take note of the items around you whether by sight, touch, scent, sound, and taste.
When you feel stressed or anxious, or as if you are having a panic attack, stop to survey your surroundings. Name five things you can see around you. Next, acknowledge four things you can touch. Third, name three things that you can hear. Fourth, notice two things you can smell. Lastly, name one thing you can taste.
For example, if you feel anxious or panicky at work, look around the office. You might name your desk, the phone, a bookcase, a stack of sticky notes, and the window as items you see.
Next, you might touch the windowpane, metal shelving, warm coffee mug, and your favorite pen. Third, you might acknowledge the scent of the robust coffee in your mug and the floral air freshener in the room. Lastly, name an item you can taste, like the mint you ate after lunch.
It takes practice to remember the order of the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique. Screenshot the steps or write them on an index card to carry with you.
Exercise is not only good for your cardiorespiratory system. Physical movement lowers anxiety and helps you to relax. It may seem counterintuitive, but when you feel stressed, taking the time to work out or taking a brisk walk will release the tension in your muscles.
The way this works is through the release of endorphins, those feel-good chemicals that make us feel happy. You may have experienced this “high” if you are a runner. A runner’s high is the release of these endorphins that create a feeling of euphoria. These chemicals also relieve tension and lessen pain.
Before starting any fitness program, consult with your primary care physician to ensure it is safe for you to engage in depending on your health. Once you receive clearance, you may want to start small and establish a daily habit of movement.
For example, you could take a brisk walk in the morning. Eventually, you may want to add more variety to your workouts, such as swimming, jogging, dancing, yoga, Pilates, resistance training, or bicycling.
Pick an activity that you enjoy and record your progress. Take note of how you feel after a workout session. Do you feel less stressed? Are you sleeping better? Do you find that you have more confidence in yourself? Start with walking and eventually, you will crave exercise as a natural anti-anxiety medication.
Need help controlling anxiety?
Is anxiety causing issues in your everyday life? Are your thoughts and emotions interfering with your relationships and work? Do you need more ideas for relaxation techniques for anxiety?
Give our office a call or complete the contact form today. We can help you manage anxiety with evidence-based methods and relaxation techniques for anxiety led by a licensed professional in Christian counseling.
“Boardwalk”, Courtesy of Brooke Campbell, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Sitting on a Hammock”, Courtesy of Jeremy Bishop, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Idyllic Pond”, Courtesy of Lucas Calloch, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “On the Beach”, Courtesy of Dan Dumitriu, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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