Relaxation can help to relieve the symptoms of stress. It can help you calm down and take a step back from a stressful situation.
Although the cause of the anxiety won’t disappear, you will probably feel more able to deal with it once you've released the tension in your body and cleared your thoughts.
Many relaxation techniques combine breathing more deeply with relaxing muscles.
Don't worry if you find it difficult to relax at first. It's a skill that needs to be learned and it will come with practice.
Yoga and tai chi are both good forms of exercise that can help to improve breathing and relaxation.
Relaxing your breathing
Practise deep breathing at a regular time and in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Loosen or remove any tight clothes you have on, such as shoes or jackets. Make yourself feel completely comfortable.
Sit in a comfy chair that supports your head, or lie on the floor or bed. Place your arms on the arms of the chair, or flat on the floor or bed. Your arms should be a little bit away from the side of your body and with the palms facing up. If you’re lying down, stretch out your legs, keeping them hip-width apart or slightly wider. If you’re sitting in a chair, don’t cross your legs.
Relaxation techniques usually start with focusing on your breathing. The way to do it is to breathe in and out slowly, using a regular rhythm since this will help you to calm down.
- Breathe in, filling the whole of your lungs with air but without forcing. Imagine you're filling up a bottle, so that your lungs fill from the bottom.
- You should breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Breathe in slowly and regularly, counting from 1 to 5 (don't worry if you can't reach 5 at first).
- Then let the breath escape slowly, counting from 1 to 5.
- Keep doing this until you feel calm. Breathe without pausing or holding your breath.
You should practise this relaxed breathing for 3 to 5 minutes, 2 to 3 times a day (or whenever you feel stressed).
Progressive muscle relaxation
This technique takes around 20 minutes. It stretches different muscles in turn and then relaxes them to release tension from the body and relax the mind.
Find a warm, quiet place with no distractions. Get completely comfortable, either sitting or lying down. Close your eyes and begin by focusing on your breathing, breathing slowly and deeply, as described above.
If you have pain in certain muscles, or if there are muscles that you find it difficult to focus on, spend more time on relaxing other parts of your body.
You may want to play some soothing music to help relaxation. As with all relaxation techniques, deep muscle relaxation will require a bit of practice before you start feeling its benefits.
In each exercise, hold the stretch for a few seconds, then relax. Repeat a couple of times. It’s useful to keep to the same order as you work through the muscle groups:
- Face — push your eyebrows together, as though frowning, then release.
- Neck — gently tilt your head forwards, pushing chin down towards chest, then slowly lift again.
- Shoulders — pull your shoulders up towards the ears (shrug), then relax them down towards the feet.
- Chest — breathe slowly and deeply into your diaphragm (below your bottom rib) so that you're using all of your lungs. Then breathe slowly out, allowing your belly to deflate as all the air is exhaled.
- Arms — stretch your arms away from your body, reach, then relax.
- Legs — push your toes away from the body, pull them towards the body, then relax.
- Wrists and hands — stretch your wrist by pulling your hand up towards you, stretch out the fingers and thumbs, then relax.
If you find the above relaxation techniques are not helping you deal with your stress, see our relaxation and mental health page for more information and tips that may help improve your situation.
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Last reviewed: March 2019