You likely already know that generalized anxiety and stress is a pervasive problem in the world today. But did you know just how big of a problem it really is?
Take this statistic, for example: According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 19% of the U.S. population has experienced some form of anxiety disorder at least once in the last year. That’s close to 40 million adults.
In effect, this means that anxiety has become the most common mental health disorder in the country.
For some, statistics like these beg the questions, “How did this happen?” and, “What caused this?” And while these are certainly legitimate questions to ask, what we’ll be focusing on in this post is another question: “What can we do to make things better?”
Relaxation: An Answer to Chronic Anxiety
People are told to “relax” all the time, but what does the word relaxation really mean?
According to the Mayo Clinic “Relaxation is a process that decreases the effects of stress on your mind and body. Relaxation techniques can help you cope with everyday stress and with stress related to various health problems, such as heart disease and pain.”
Why Worry About Relaxation?
Relaxation is just one word, but it represents more than just untightening the muscles and clearing the mind.
Certainly, these are key elements, but it’s important to note that we can gain a tremendous amount from relaxation overall.
Understanding this starts with realizing that, when it comes to the challenges we face in our personal lives, everyone has had unique experiences and is facing their own struggles. As a result, relaxation will inevitably mean something different to everyone. The common factor is that relaxation is meant to reduce anxiety and stress, ultimately providing a number of key benefits for the mind, body, and soul.
For one person with insomnia, for example, relaxation may mean a way to get to sleep and stay asleep for at least 5 hours every night. For someone else who is fighting chronic pain, it may mean learning to cope with discomfort and deal with the corresponding emotional challenges. Or, perhaps someone who has recently gone through a difficult experience is struggling to regain their foothold on life and overcome their anxiety. For them, relaxation will be about learning to handle their stress better and restore their own sense of calmness and confidence.
All of these reasons — and many more — are crucial reasons to cultivate relaxation in your own life.
Stress: The Opposite of Relaxation
What Is Stress?
Perhaps relaxation can best be explained by talking about its opposite: stress. If you want to know how to relax your mind, you've got to know what's causing it not to be relaxed, right?
For most people, this is stress.
Stress is something that plagues millions of Americans every day. The National Institute of Mental Health defines stress as, "how the brain and body respond to any demand.” They continue: “Any type of challenge — such as performance at work or school, a significant life change, or a traumatic event — can be stressful.”
Of course, stress isn't always bad. Life's ups and downs necessitate dealing with various types of stressful situations. Often, in life, many of the best things are achieved or realized by getting through a stressful situation intact and ultimately, rising above.
Real issues occur when we don't know how to manage stress appropriately. Whether it’s necessary or unnecessary stress, many of us simply don’t have a plan for dealing with it.
You've probably felt what it's like to mishandle a bout of stress before. Some people may turn to a substance such as alcohol or drugs when they get overly stressed. Others may overeat, overspend, or lash out at their friends or family. Still others may spend the whole day in bed and avoid their responsibilities. In the end, these negative ways of dealing with stress will inevitably lead to more trouble and more stress.
A better solution is to learn how to relax.
Knowing how to relax your mind and how to relax your body is the ultimate key to unlocking ultimate stress relief. Before we explain the details, however, let’s look at some of the other relaxation benefits you can look forward to.
The Astounding Benefits of a Relaxed Mind
We’ve already covered reduced stress and anxiety as a core benefit of a relaxed mind. Here are the other top benefits of relaxation.
Better overall physical health
Most notably, a better handle on relaxation in your life can lead to better heart health. As heart disease is a leading killer of both men and women, this means that relaxation is literally a matter of life and death. Relaxation helps heart health by stopping everyday stress from causing fight or flight symptoms: rapid heart rate, sweating, heavy breathing, etc.
Many individuals who struggle with stress and don’t know how to relax also struggle with their digestion. Several digestion-related conditions can be improved with relaxation techniques such as meditation and mindfulness. For example, a recent study found that Crohn’s Disease symptoms improved after participation in a comprehensive mind-body relaxation program.
Check out our resource page on conscientious chewing to learn more about how to improve digestion.
Improved sleep is something that many people desire and need. Millions of people around the world struggle with sleep, and full-blown insomnia has become more prevalent than ever. In fact, recent research from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine has revealed that approximately one-fourth of Americans develop insomnia every single year.
By learning how to relax, however, better sleep could be yours.
A large element of sleep has to do with relaxation. You need to know how to relax your body and how to relax your mind. That’s because sleep can only be achieved when both the mind and body are ready. If your body is tense and jittery, it won’t be able to fall asleep. The same goes for your mind — if your thoughts are all over the place, you won’t be able to loosen up enough to fall asleep.
A great tool for better sleep through relaxation is called progressive muscle relaxation. This technique teaches you how to relax muscles and mind at the same time. To perform progressive muscle relaxation, lay in bed as you normally would before attempting to fall asleep. Then — starting at either your head or feet — progressively tighten and relax each muscle group.
1. Start with your feet. Tense up the muscles in your right foot. Count to five. Release. Count to five.
2. Tense up the muscles in your left foot. Count to five. Release. Count to five.
3. Tense up the muscles in your right calf. Count to five. Release. Count to five.
4. Tense up the muscles in your left calf. Count to five. Release. Count to five.
5. Repeat until you work your way up to your head and face.
Let our yoga professionals help you improve your sleep even more through the practice of yoga nidra.
More developed relationships
When you’re less distracted by constant worry and stress, you’ll have time to focus on what really matters in life. For most of us, this comes down to cultivating better relationships with the ones we love. Relaxation is even something that you can do with friends or family members. For example, try in-home meditation with your whole family.
Routine-Based Relaxation Techniques
So, how does one learn to relax better? The following relaxation techniques can be practiced regularly to cultivate improved relaxation.
Deep breathing exercises
Deep breathing is one of the best relaxation tools available, and the best news is: It’s available anytime, anywhere because your breath is always with you. Deep breathing exercises aim to help people breathe abdominally (from the abdomen) instead of breathing consistently shallowly. The latter is often linked with headaches, lack of sleep, tiredness, and unnecessary stress and anxiety.
There are many iterations of meditation, but at its most basic level, all meditation involves intense focus on what is happening in the present moment. It is the training of concentration, the cultivation of heightened awareness, and the harnessing of thoughts and emotions. Most people who meditate regularly for relaxation do so for 10 minutes to an hour each day.
Busy schedule? There’s still a way to make time to meditate with Anahana Meditation On-Demand. It’s customized to your lifestyle, tailored to your goals, and there whenever you need it.
Yoga is an ancient practice that aims to link the mind with the body through movement, poses, and deep breathing. There are a plethora of yoga styles to choose from. But what most of them have in common is the goal of relaxing both the body and mind, putting both presences in sync with one another, and improving concentration and awareness as a result.
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the present moment instead of ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. Mindfulness practice is often carried out in tandem with yoga and meditation. However, you can practice mindfulness any time of the day — all day if you wish.
Frequently Asked Questions About Relaxation
How do you relax your mind?
You can relax your mind with mindfulness, meditation, or yoga. Choose the practice that’s right for you by weighing the situation or situations that are causing you not to feel relaxed.
For example, if you are stressed from a long and tiring work week, try yoga to learn how to relax muscles that are tense. If, on the other hand, you are stressed because of an upcoming event that you’re worried about, try meditation to calm your mind in anticipation of the event.
How do you calm down anxiety?
Anxiety can creep in at any time. Often, however, it’s the result of thinking too much about the future or the past. By learning to focus on the present moment through mindfulness practice, you can instantly calm down anxiety.
How can I relax at home?
At home, you have many options for cultivating relaxation. Performing a meditation or yoga practice at home is a great place to begin. You can also try:
- Taking a warm bubble bath
- Reading a book
- Taking a nap
- Going for a walk
- Eating a healthy snack in mindfulness
- Get an in-home massage
How do you destress your body?
If you want to know how to destress the body, try yoga. Yoga provides a myriad of amazing benefits, including better stress management, increased flexibility, and more developed muscle tone.
Progressive muscle relaxation is another excellent tool for relaxing the body. To try it, start at the top of the head and work your way down to the toes. Then, follow these steps.
How to relax your muscles with progressive muscle relaxation:
1. Begin by tensing up the muscles in your head and face. Feel free to screw your face up into as funny of an expression as possible. Do this in order to tense up as many muscles as you can. Count to five. Release. Count to five.
2. Next, tense up the muscles in your neck. Count to five. Release. Count to five.
3. Now, tense up the muscles in your right shoulder and upper right arm. Count to five. Release. Count to five.
4. Tense up the muscles in your left shoulder and upper left shoulder. Count to five. Release. Count to five.
5. Repeat this pattern until you work your way down to your feet and toes.
Note: This is a great technique for learning how to relax your jaw as well (when tensing the muscles of the face). A jaw that is too tense from stress can cause conditions such as called bruxism (teeth grinding) and TMJ disorder (disorder of the temporomandibular joint). The latter is an especially painful and troublesome disorder that can negatively affect talking, eating, sleeping, and everyday life. In some cases, it may even require surgery.
How do I calm my nerves?
Nervous before a big performance or presentation? Getting ready to go on a date? First day on the job? Try this quick nerve-calming technique. It’s called square breathing or box breathing.
How to do square breathing:
1. Find a quiet place to do your box breathing, where you won’t be distracted for at least five minutes.
2. Sit upright with your back straight. Gently close your eyes. Lay your hands in your lap, palms up.
3. Exhale completely so that all of the air is out of your lungs.
4. Now, inhale slowly while you count to four in your head. When you reach four, your lungs should be completely full of air.
5. Hold the air in your lungs for a count of four.
6. Slowly, count to four in your head as you exhale all of the air out of your lungs.
7. Hold for a count of four.
8. Repeat the sequence for three to five minutes.
Still feeling jumpy, overwhelmed, or unbalanced? Unwind your mind in just 25 minutes with professional help.
How do I shut my brain off to sleep?
To shut your brain off at night, try progressive muscle relaxation or square breathing. (Both techniques are outlined above.)
Unlock a Relaxed, Stress-Free Mind With Help From an Anahana Meditation Coach
If stress consistently plagues you, there’s no time like the present to take action. Often, we think that expensive things, unique experiences, or new relationships are what we need to silence that nagging feeling of anxiety inside our minds. But the truth is — while none of these things are necessarily bad — it’s far more likely that you’ll benefit from tackling stress head-on.
Learning how to relax properly is a key component to dismantling the tension and anxiety that often lurks beneath the surface.
At Anahana, cultivating relaxation is what we do. Our trained yoga instructors, meditation teachers, and breathing experts are experts at helping you tap into the true sources of your stress and anxiety. Through deep breathing techniques, meditation, yoga, and mindfulness, these professionals can help train you in the art of relaxation. All services are unique and tailored to you. And if you’re busy? They can even be brought to you — meditation in your own space, on your own schedule.
Ready to begin? It just takes one moment to reach out and connect with your own personal Wellness Advisor. You’re already that much closer to living a long, happy, healthy life. Get started today.
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Written by Clint Johnson
Clint teaches Yoga, Pilates, breathe, and mediation to students and teachers all over the world. Prior to joining the wellness world, CJ as his friends call him, started his career as a MBS derivative trader and portfolio manager on Wall St. Clint is the founder of Anahana, and holds an MBA from INSEAD.