Relaxation techniques

You do not have to go to expensive spas or learn complicated methods of relaxation – all these simple tips can help you to relax and de-stress;

1.Meditate

You do not have to be sitting in a cross-legged pose for hours in order to meditate successfully - any repetitive action can be a source of meditation and this includes walking, swimming, painting, or any activity that helps keep your attention calmly in the present moment. If you catch yourself thinking about stresses in your job, your relationship or worrying about a list of problems, let the thought escape, and bring your mind back the repetition of the activity you are involved in. Even doing this for just 5 to 10 minutes a day can be all you need to lower your stress levels.

2.Imagine yourself relaxed

The idea is to take your mind off your stress, and replace it with a mental picture that evokes a sense of calm. The more realistic your image in terms of colours, sights and sounds, the more relaxed you can feel. To start, simply visualize anything that keeps your thoughts away from current tensions – this could be a favourite holiday, a secret spot that only you know about, your dream house, or just a flickering candle. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as you feel relaxed thinking about it.

3.Remember to breathe deeply

Feeling stressed causes tense, shallow breathing, while feeling calm is usually associated with relaxed, deeper breathing. If you feel tense all the time, try to change the way you breathe. An easy way to start is to let out a big sigh, drop your chest, and exhale slowly through your mouth. Now focus on your abdomen and inhale through your nose, feeling your entire belly, sides and lower back expand. Exhale, sighing again as you drop your chest and feeling your belly, back and sides contract. Repeat this 10 times, relaxing more fully each time.

4.Take time to look around you

Remembering to focus on what is happening in the here and now can help promote relaxation and provide a buffer against anxiety and depression. Practice this by focusing on your immediate surroundings so, for example, if you're outdoors, enjoy the shape and colours of flowers, hear a bird's call or look at nature around you. As long as you can keep your mind focused on something in the present, stress will usually ease away.

5. Drink more tea

If you're a heavy coffee drinker, consider changing to green tea. Coffee can raise levels of the stress hormone cortisol, while green tea does not. Green tea is a powerful antioxidant that can help improve overall health. Try chamomile tea too – this is a traditional favourite for calming the mind and reducing stress.

6. Have more hugs

You can lower your stress levels and relax by cuddling your pet, giving an unexpected hug to a friend or family member, or by snuggling up with your spouse. Physical contact such as stroking your dog or cat or having a hug with your loved ones may help to lower blood pressure and decrease levels of stress hormones in the body.

7. Try self-massage

If your muscles are tense and you have no time to have a proper massage, try simple self-massage. Place both hands on your shoulders and neck, squeeze with your fingers and palms and rub vigorously, keeping your shoulders relaxed. Then, wrap one hand around the other forearm, squeeze the muscles with thumb and fingers, move up and down from your elbow to fingertips and back again. Repeat with your other arm and do this several times.

8. Take a time-out

Just as young children sometimes need a time-out when they are getting overstressed, adults do too. If you find you are getting close to boiling over, find a quiet place to sit or lie down and put the stressful situation on hold. Take a few deep breaths and concentrate on releasing tension and calming your heartbeat. Quiet your mind and relax.

9. Listen to music

Music can lower both blood pressure and the pulse so listen to a relaxing song with a slow tempo, often as a classical tune. These days the term ‘music therapy’ is sometimes used but the underlying principle has not changed – music is good for you. It can promote relaxation and reduce insomnia, soothe infants and disturbed children, and help in treating depression.

10. Take a 30 second break

Thirty seconds is enough time to shift your tension levels from stressed to relaxed. Start by imagining something that triggers a positive feeling such as your loved one, an image of your favourite pet, or a recent holiday - whatever it is, conjuring up the thought will help slow breathing, relax tense muscles and put a smile on your face. Creating this positive emotional attitude can also calm and steady your heart rhythm, and contribute to a feeling of being relaxed and peaceful.