Try these stress-reducing techniques that use your muscles, your breathing, and your mind to help you relax.
About 18 percent of Americans deal with an anxiety disorder each year. This condition encompasses many types of anxiety-related problems, including:
- Bouts of panic
- Distress following a traumatic event (post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD)
- Phobias involving issues like flying or being in enclosed spaces
- Anxiety over appearing in public
Even in people without a full-fledged anxiety disorder, anxiety over day-to-day issues is common, whether it's about work or family pressures, the state of the economy, or wars going on around the world. Fortunately, there are many ways to help you cope.
Anxiety Relief: Treatment Alternatives
Doctors can treat your anxiety with different medications. But medications may not continue to work as well over the long term, and they can have troublesome side effects, including drowsiness and sexual dysfunction.
However, several simple-to-learn stress management techniques can help relieve your anxiety. In a recent review of 27 earlier studies on relaxation techniques, researchers concluded that various approaches do significantly reduce anxiety.
By focusing on different parts of your body or body-related processes, you can help bring a greater sense of calm to your mind.
Anxiety Relief: Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Often, when you're under stress, your muscles become tense. You may not be aware that your muscles have grown tight and stiff and, even if you make an effort to calm down, your muscles may keep holding tension. Learning how to thoroughly relax your muscles can help you deal with stressful situations in a healthier manner.
To practice progressive muscle relaxation, you should begin in a seated position or lying on your back on a soft surface with your arms at your sides. The goal is to tighten the muscles in certain parts of your body, making an effort to really apply the tension. Then you relax them. Start by tensing the muscles in your face, then work your way down your neck, shoulders, chest, arms, hands, and the rest of your body. Take note of how the muscles feel while they're tensed, then relaxed. Breathe in as you tighten the muscles, exhale as you release them.
Anxiety Relief: Deep Breathing
When you're stressed out, your breathing often becomes fast and shallow. This relaxation technique requires you to pay attention to how you're breathing and use your belly, not just your chest, as you draw in breath. As you focus on your breath coming in and going out, let your other worries or concerns fade away. Again, you should practice this technique while sitting or lying down. Put a hand lightly on your stomach, and breathe so that your abdomen lifts and lowers your hand. Once you learn to do this properly, you can practice it when day-to-day stressful situations arise.
Anxiety Relief: Imagery
If you have a photo of your last beach vacation taped to your computer at work, you're probably familiar with using mental imagery to relieve your stress. By picturing yourself in a relaxing setting, you can turn your attention away from the situation that is bothering you and see yourself in a more soothing environment.
To use this technique for stress relief, simply get into a restful position, close your eyes, and imagine yourself in a setting that's calming to you. Be sure to envision all the sounds, sights, smells, and other sensations that you'd encounter if you were actually there.
Practice these techniques for a few minutes each day until you feel comfortable using them. Then you’ll be prepared to apply them the next time you experience stress.