Explore how relaxation techniques can reduce stress.
Imagine that you're having a particularly stressful day, and everything seems to be going wrong.
You have a number of important deadlines due, several members of your team have called in sick, and you've just found out that you have to make a presentation to the board – tomorrow.
When you have to deal with situations like these, your heart may race, your breathing may become fast and shallow, and you could even feel that you can't cope with the task at hand. These feelings are the result of your body going through sudden changes as it prepares to deal with a perceived threat – this is the famous "fight-or-flight" response.
All of us experience this occasionally, and, for some, it can be a regular occurrence. While a small amount of pressure can help you focus and improve your performance, too much short-term stress hinders your ability to work well. This is why it's useful to know some techniques that can help you relax.
You can use these techniques whenever you're feeling stressed or tense. For example, you can use them to relax before a presentation or performance; you can use them to clear your mind, so that you can solve problems creatively; or you can use them to compose yourself before a job interview. Using these techniques regularly can help you to maintain a relaxed and calm state of mind.
In this article, we'll look at deep breathing, progressive muscular relaxation, and centering – three physical techniques that can help you reduce muscle tension and manage the effects of your body's fight-or-flight response. This is particularly important if you need to think clearly and perform well when you're under pressure.
Stress can cause severe health problems and, in extreme cases, even death. While these stress management techniques have been shown to have a positive effect on reducing stress, they are for guidance only. You should take the advice of suitably qualified health professionals if you have any concerns over stress-related illnesses, or if stress is causing you significant or persistent unhappiness.
Deep breathing is a simple but effective method of relaxation. It is a core component of yoga and Zen meditation, as well as of the common approach of taking "10 deep breaths" to calm down. It works well in conjunction with other relaxation techniques – such as progressive muscular relaxation, relaxation imagery, and meditation – to reduce stress.
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Harvard Health Publications: Harvard Medical School (2012) 'Take a Deep Breath,' Harvard Mental Health Letter, May 2009. [Online] Available here. [Accessed November 6, 2012.]
Cuda, G. (2010) 'Just Breathe: Body has a Built-In Stress Reliever,' NPR Books. [Online] Available here. [Accessed November 6, 2012.]