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How to Reduce Stress: 6 Relaxation Techniques

Updated on February 19, 2018
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Anne has a BSc in Applied Psychology and qualifications in counselling, CBT & mindfulness. She teaches mindfulness workshops and courses.

Cats know how to relax! This is my cat, Charlie cuddled up with his favorite toy cat!
Cats know how to relax! This is my cat, Charlie cuddled up with his favorite toy cat! | Source

Relaxation Techniques

We all need down time, a period of time that we can call our own.

It’s important for good mental health, and it also helps us to function more efficiently. And it’s essential for stress relief. This is a time we can practice some relaxation techniques.

There are many ways to wind down and relax.

Here are just 6 ways to get you thinking about it.

1. Take a couple of good deep breaths first. 2. Breathe normally, counting each breath.
1. Breathing technique as above for 2-3 mins. 2. Tense your toes and relax. 2. Tense your legs and relax. 3. Repeat slowly up to your head.
1. Think of your favourite place. 2. Close your eyes and use all of your senses to imagine you are there. Smell the air, hear the sounds, feel the ground under your feet...
Positive Thinking
Think back over your day and find 3 positive things to appreciate.
For long term stress relief, find a sport or a hobby that interests you.
There are several devices available

Just Breathe

You can use this relaxation technique anywhere whenever you need to calm down and relax:

  • Pick a spot to fix your gaze on, or you can close your eyes, whichever makes you feel most comfortable.
  • Fill your lungs with air, hold it for the count of 5, then slowly let it out.
  • Do this 5 times.
  • Allow your breathing to return to normal.
  • Now count each breath, without altering the rhythm: 1-in-out, 2-in-out, 3-in-out, 4-in-out, 5-in-out.
  • Do this until you feel more at ease and relaxed.


There are almost as many types and methods of meditation as there are people. But we’re going to keep it simple.

There is no mystery to it, nor is there any danger.

You will not go into a trance from which you cannot escape, as one person once warned me. (She had never meditated, but heard it from a friend of a friend…)

You do not have to have any spiritual or religious beliefs in order to meditate.

Mindfulness Meditation is becoming particularly popular these days for that reason, and also because it has been shown to be particularly beneficial for both physical and mental health1.

The meditation method I suggest below is for relaxation purposes. Play around with it to suit yourself. Perhaps put on some relaxing music, or just enjoy the silence.

Do NOT worry whenever your mind wanders, and it will. It’s natural for our mind to get distracted, particularly when we’re used to thinking of several things at once. When you become aware that your mind has wandered, just allow the thoughts to float away and bring your mind gently back to your body.

  • Find a quiet space where you will not be disturbed for at least twenty minutes.

  • Sit comfortably with your back straight and supported, feet flat on the floor and hands on your lap, or if you prefer, lie flat on the floor with your hands either side of you.

  • Inhale deeply, hold it for 5 seconds, exhale slowly. Do this 3 or 4 times, then allow your breathing to return to normal.

  • Wiggle your toes, then relax them completely. Feel all the tension drain away from them.

  • Now flex your feet. Feel the tension in the feet, and in the calf muscles at the back of your leg. Now relax. Feel all the tension drain away from them.

  • Flex your knees and relax.

  • Work your way up your body in this way at whatever pace suits you. But be sure to bring your attention to the sensation of the tension draining away each time you relax a muscle.

  • When you've reached the top of your head, check back down through your body for any areas of tension. Flex those muscles again, and relax.

Don’t get too caught up in rules or methods. Just enjoy this time for you, and don’t worry if you don’t feel completely relaxed at the end. As with all things, there is a learning curve.

Be patient with yourself. With practice, you will get the hang of it.

Here's a guided meditation to help you relax...

A misty Irish landscape, a beautiful and peaceful place. One of my favorite places.
A misty Irish landscape, a beautiful and peaceful place. One of my favorite places. | Source


You can use this as a stand alone technique, or as part of a meditation:

Where is your favorite place in the world?

  • Whenever you want to relax, find yourself a comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed and close your eyes.
  • Imagine your are in your favorite place.
  • See the images around you, hear the sounds, smell the odors, use all of your senses to really experience this place.
  • Now, pay attention to how you feel right now, in this special place.
  • Enjoy the feeling for as long as you can before you have to return to your physical space.
  • Then, before opening your eyes, become aware of where you are.
  • Wiggle your toes, tense your buttocks, then slowly open your eyes and look around you.
  • You can also use CD’s or MP3 of birdsong, flowing water, etc to help with the imagery, if appropriate.


There are several bio feedback devices available, but the one I am most familiar with and have used personally is the Heartmath, emWave PSR .(Personal Stress Response)

This is a small device, about the size of an MP3 player, which monitors your heart rate and gives you instant audio and visual feedback.

However, if you put "biofeedback devices" into any search engine you will get plenty of results.

Most of them work in a similar way. Whenever you do the breathing exercises as above, for example, a light goes from red to green and you can see the positive effect you're creating right away.

I've found bio feedback to be an excellent method whenever I need to calm down and relax right away. I

t can be used anywhere, anytime, and I often use it myself in the car (not while driving, of course!), at work, in college, wherever or whenever I need to relax.

Positive Thinking

It's very easy to develop a habit of negative thinking, which can lead to worry and stress. Here's an easy and effective technique for breaking the negative thinking habit and developing a positive thinking habit:

Every evening, as you prepare for bed, go over the day and find 3 things that were pleasing to you. They can be anything such as wearing your favourite sweater, the sunshine, the rain, the stranger who smiled at you, that driver who let you out into the traffic. It doesn't have to be anything big or life changing, although they count as well, of course!

Try this for one week, and if you like the result, try it for another week. Pretty soon you might find it becomes a habit that you won't want to break.

Take up a hobby
Take up a hobby | Source

For more long term effect: Take up a hobby

Under rated as a relaxation technique, but my experience has been that a hobby is an effective way to take your mind off your problems for a while. It can be anything from golf to knitting, and anything in between. Painting, photography or playing a musical instrument are just some hobby ideas, but the only limit is your imagination



Ospina MB, Bond K, Karkhane M, et al. Meditation practices for health: State of the research. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. US Department of Health and Human Services Evidence Reports/Technology Assessments, NO. 155. Rockville,MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; 2007.


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