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Stress Management: Relaxing Your Mind and Body


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Take a deep breath. Hold it for a moment, and then exhale. Feel more relaxed? Breathing exercises are one way to relax. Here you will learn about different ways to relax your mind and body. Being relaxed can help ease stress. It can also relieve anxiety, depression, and sleep problems.

  • To relax means to calm the mind, the body, or both.
  • Relaxing can quiet your mind and make you feel peaceful and calm. Your body also reacts when you relax. For example, your muscles may be less tense and more flexible.
  • There are different ways to relax. You may find one or more ways help to calm you down and feel at peace.

Many methods of relaxation work on both the mind and the body at the same time. Other ways to relax focus on just one or the other.

  • Relaxing the mind means to quiet your thoughts so that you feel calm and peaceful. This can help you feel better and think more clearly than when you are stressed or anxious.
  • Relaxing the body depends on where you are holding your tension. When people are stressed, their muscles often become tight. Learning how to relax your muscles, such as through progressive muscle relaxation, is one way to relax your body. Breathing deeply is another way.

Test Your Knowledge

Progressive muscle relaxation is one way to relax the body.

True
False

Relaxing your mind and body can make you feel calm and peaceful. It can help relieve stress as well as anxiety, depression, and sleep problems.

Stress is a physical or emotional response to life's changes and challenges. When you are under stress or feel anxious, your body reacts as if it is under attack. This is called the fight-or-flight stress response. Your body releases hormones that speed up your heart rate and breathing and make your muscles tense. Stress also affects your emotions, making you feel moody, tense, upset, or depressed. Over time, stress can affect your health in other ways too. For example, stress has been linked to high blood pressure, headaches, and low back pain.

When you are able to relax your mind and body, your body makes less of the hormones that create stress. The feelings of stress ease, and you return to a state of calm, both physically and mentally.

Test Your Knowledge

Relaxing your mind and body can have a positive effect on your health.

True
False

There are lots of ways to relax. Some ways are designed to relax your mind and some to relax your body. But because of the way the mind and body are connected, many relaxation methods work on both the mind and the body.

You may want to try one or more of the following relaxation tips to see what works best for you.

Relaxing the mind

  • Take slow, deep breaths. Or try other breathing exercises for relaxation.
    Click here to view an Actionset.Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation
  • Soak in a warm bath.
  • Listen to soothing music.
  • Practice mindful meditation. The goal of mindful meditation is to focus your attention on things that are happening right now in the present moment. For example, listen to your body. Is your breathing fast, slow, deep, or shallow? Do you hear noises, such as traffic, or do you hear only silence? The idea is just to note what is happening without trying to change it.
    Click here to view an Actionset.Stress Management: Doing Meditation
  • Write. Some people feel more relaxed after they write about their feelings. One way is to keep a journal.
  • Use guided imagery. With guided imagery, you imagine yourself in a certain setting that helps you feel calm and relaxed. You can use audiotapes, scripts, or a teacher to guide you through the process.
    Click here to view an Actionset.Stress Management: Doing Guided Imagery to Relax

Relaxing the body

  • Do yoga. You can get books and videos to do at home or take a yoga class.
    Click here to view an Actionset.Stress Management: Practicing Yoga to Relax
  • Try progressive muscle relaxation. This process involves tensing and relaxing each muscle group. Progressive muscle relaxation can reduce anxiety and muscle tension. If you have trouble falling asleep, this method may also help with your sleep problems. When you relax your muscles, your body gets the signal that it is okay to fall asleep.
    Click here to view an Actionset.Stress Management: Doing Progressive Muscle Relaxation
  • Take a walk or do some other activity. Making time to do things you enjoy can also help you relax.
  • Get a massage or have someone give you a back rub.
  • Have a warm drink that doesn't have alcohol or caffeine in it, such as herbal tea or warm milk.

Test Your Knowledge

When you work to relax your mind, you may also relax your body.

True
False

Now that you have read this information, you are ready to relax your mind and body. You may try one or more of the relaxation methods we've mentioned. Use the ones that have the best results for you.

If you would like more information on how to relax your mind and body, the following resource is available:

Organization

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), National Institutes of Health
9000 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, MD 20892
Phone: 1-888-644-6226
Fax: 1-866-464-3616 toll-free
TDD: 1-866-464-3615 toll-free
Email: info@nccam.nih.gov
Web Address: www.nccam.nih.gov

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) explores complementary and alternative healing practices in the context of rigorous science, trains complementary and alternative medicine researchers, and gives out authoritative information.


Return to topic:

  • Panic Attacks
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Stress Management

Other Works Consulted

  • Anspaugh DJ, et al. (2011). Coping with and managing stress. In Wellness: Concepts and Applications, 8th ed., pp. 307–340. New York: McGraw-Hill.

  • Freeman L (2009). Relaxation therapy. In Mosby's Complementary and Alternative Medicine: A Research-Based Approach, 3rd ed., pp. 129–157. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerPatrice Burgess, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerSteven Locke, MD - Psychiatry
Last RevisedMay 15, 2012

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