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Relaxation techniques for stress relief

7-minute read

Key facts

  • Relaxation techniques can help you manage your stress, and improve your wellbeing.
  • Relaxation techniques for stress include slow breathing, mindfulness and positive affirmations.
  • Other ways to relieve stress include exercising and getting enough sleep.
  • Ongoing stress can cause a person to feel exhausted, or feel like they are not coping.
  • If you feel like you are always stressed, or aren’t able to manage your stress, speak with your doctor.

How are relaxation techniques beneficial?

Stress causes your nervous system to release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which can help your body respond to challenging situations. But if you feel stressed for a long time, they can cause you to feel overwhelmed, exhausted or like you aren’t coping.

Ongoing — or, chronic — stress is associated with some mental health conditions. It can also cause physical symptoms like high blood pressure, headaches, insomnia and a weakened immune system.

Relaxation techniques can help you manage stress and improve your wellbeing.

When can relaxation techniques help me?

Relaxation techniques can be used any time you feel stressed. Everyone’s stress symptoms are different, so pay attention to how you respond to stressful situations, and what relaxation techniques work well for you.

Symptoms of stress include:

During times of stress, relaxation techniques can help you control how you feel. They can also help build up your ‘stress tolerance’, as each time that you succeed at managing stress, you may cope better next time you feel stressed.

As you get better at working through stressful situations, you become less likely to suffer from the effects of chronic stress.

What relaxation techniques can I use?

There are many relaxation techniques available if you’re feeling stressed. It’s important to find the techniques that work for you.

Slow breathing

Stress can cause you to take fast, shallow breaths, and slowing down your breathing may help you to feel better. Count to 3 as you slowly inhale, and then count to 3 as you exhale.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness involves focusing your thoughts on whatever task you are doing at any given moment.

Concentrate only on what you are doing, without paying attention to distracting or judgemental thoughts. This might be walking to the shops, brushing your hair or just breathing (known as ‘mindful breathing’).

The aim is to be in the present moment, so that you don’t get caught up in stressful thoughts.

Meditation and yoga

Meditation or yoga may also help you to manage stress. Studies show that people who meditate daily are more successful at managing their stress. Yoga uses aspects of mindfulness to help you feel relaxed and more focused.

Progressive muscle relaxation/whole body tension

Lie down in a quiet place and close your eyes. Starting from your toes, slowly tense up each part of your body one-by-one, hold for 2 seconds and release.

Visualisation techniques

Use your imagination to paint a mental picture with one or more of the 5 senses (sound, smell, touch, taste and sight). Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted, and think of somewhere that makes you feel calm. For example, “You are at the beach, under a bright blue sky, you can hear the waves crashing on the shore as the sun gently warms your body”.

Positive affirmations

When you are stressed, you may think negatively or struggle to believe in yourself. Positive affirmations such as, “I did well today despite all the challenges” or, “It might be busy now but soon the stress will fade” can help you to relax.

Transformations

This technique is about turning a negative thought or image into something positive. It is similar to visualisation techniques but focuses on the transformation from the bad to the good. For example, visualising a tied knot being untied, a thundercloud drifting away and being replaced by a clear sky or a tense fist relaxing into an open hand.

Gratitude

When you are stressed, it can be hard to notice the good things in your life. Writing down a “thank you” list or keeping a gratitude journal can help you focus on what is going well. You don’t need to show this to anyone — it can just be for you. Gratitude helps to keep stressful thoughts in perspective.

What else can I do to relieve stress?

Exercise

Daily exercise has many benefits, including stress reduction. Something as simple as going for a walk or taking part in a team sport can improve your mental health, and help you relax.

Eating and drinking well

A well-balanced diet is essential to maintain wellbeing. Vitamins D and B as well as omega-3 and omega-6 are considered useful for reducing stress. Try to reduce your use of stimulants like caffeine. Avoid using alcohol as a way of reducing stress. If you find you are turning to alcohol often, ask your doctor to recommend a support service to help you find a better way to manage your stress.

Socialising

Healthy relationships are an important part of feeling well. Socialising with friends and family is a great way to reduce stress. You can even combine stress-relieving techniques, for example exercising with a friend. This will help you spend quality time with someone you care about while keeping physically active as well.

Activities and goals

Finding an activity that provides meaning and structure can help to clear your mind of worries. Try a craft activity, write a decorated card for a friend or volunteer at your favourite charity. You may like to set a goal for yourself related to an activity, such as volunteering once a week. Reaching your goals is very satisfying and can be a great way to relieve stress.

Sleep

Getting enough sleep allows you to function at your best and will also positively impact your mood. This can help you to manage your stress better.

When should I seek help from a health professional?

If you have tried relaxation techniques and are still finding it difficult to manage your stress, speak to your doctor or a mental health professional.

Chronic stress could be a sign of depression, anxiety or another mental health condition.

Symptoms of chronic stress include:

  • feeling more angry or teary than usual
  • insomnia
  • concentration difficulties
  • headaches
  • feeling helpless or overwhelmed

Learn more about accessing mental health services.

Resources and support

If you feel that stress is impacting on your ability to function, help is available.

Find a GP clinic or psychology service near you using the healthdirect Australia Service finder.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

For immediate support:

  • In an emergency call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.
  • For crisis support call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
  • For Beyond Blue’s support service call 1300 22 4636.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2022


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