Anxious thoughts, worries about the future, regrets about the past … Tension and stress have a unique way of infiltrating our minds and overwhelming us.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to help relax your mind and find peace, even in challenging times.
How Can I Relax My Stressed Mind?
While we cannot eradicate all stress from our lives, we can learn to manage it better. This starts with having some stress-reducing techniques at-the-ready for when you feel your mind reeling and ruminating with negative thoughts and emotions.
Here are four relaxation suggestions that are sure to relax the mind.
Meditation is an excellent way to relax the mind. The benefits are manifold and can be felt both physically and mentally.
There are numerous ways to use meditation to help reduce stress and anxiety. But while meditation can be many things and comes in many forms, at its core, it is the practice of training your awareness and honing your attention.
Visualization meditation is an excellent place to start if you’re new to meditation. Just as famous athletes practice visualization before the big game to help them play to the best of their abilities, you can practice calming visualization meditation to help you stay calm at later moments.
Follow these steps to engage in basic visualization meditation:
- Start by finding a quiet place to sit — on a meditation cushion or upright at the edge of a chair are good places.
- Set a timer for five to ten minutes.
- Keep your back straight. It can help to imagine you have a string running from the base of your spine up through your back and neck and out the top of your head. Imagine the string attaching to the ceiling and keeping your spine straight and upright.
- Gently close your eyes.
- Imagine a calming location. As an example, let’s say that you are seated on the grassy shore of a softly flowing stream. The weather is perfect. The sun is warming your skin, but a cool, soft breeze is keeping you from getting too hot.
- Hear the stream water rushing by. Feel the breeze on your skin. Smell the fresh scent of flowers and the outdoors.
- Breathe slowly from your lower abdomen. Focus on the breath going in and out of your lungs.
- When a thought, feeling, or emotion enters your mind, imagine that thought, feeling, or emotion sitting on a maple leaf that is floating down the river. See the leaf and what’s on it. Accept that thought, feeling, or emotion. It’s not bad or good, scary, alarming, or worrisome. Simply see it on the leaf and let it pass you by, down the river. Go back to focusing on the breath and your visualization at the edge of the stream.
Continue on like this every time you experience an extraneous thought until your alarm sounds.
Mindfulness is another amazing practice for promoting peace and relaxation. It is quite close to meditation practice, but it is unique in that you can practice mindfulness anywhere, anytime. The goal of mindfulness is to stay present and to not allow yourself to ruminate about the past or future.
Here is a basic mindfulness practice you can try while doing a rote activity, such as washing the dishes in your kitchen sink:
- Stand at your sink, ready to wash your dishes. Tell yourself that washing your dishes is going to be all that you’ll be doing for at least the next ten minutes. Commit to this time so that you can avoid wishing you were doing something else or trying to get washing the dishes “over with.”
- Tense all the muscles in your body that you can. Hold for a count of three. Release. Repeat this three times.
- How does your body feel now? Give it a little shake to get out any extra tension.
- Take three deep breaths, in and out.
- Turn on the faucet. Spend time getting the exact right temperature of the water — not too hot, not too cold. Focus on how the water looks as it glides over your fingers. Feel it change from cool, to hot, to warm. Hear it rush from the faucet and trickle into the drain.
- Add some soap to a sponge. See its glossy color and note its scent. Agitate the sponge to create bubbles, watching the bubbles grow in number and feeling their warmth run over the skin of your hands.
- Feel an extraneous thought or feeling coming up? Notice it. Then let it go. Return your attention to the soap and sponge.
- Pick up a dish to wash. Examine the dish. Slowly, begin to wash it, taking care to wash every piece of debris off.
- Rinse the dish, seeing all the dirty spots and soapy water fall away. Set it aside to dry. Continue breathing deeply.
Don't rush. Continue washing your dishes in this manner until you finish or for at least ten minutes.
Take Up Yoga
Yoga is another great way to find peace and calm when you feel your mind is racing.
The mind-body connection with yoga is an amazing phenomenon. Essentially, the theory behind the mind-body connection is that what goes on in the mind — thoughts, emotions, and feelings — affects what goes on in your body, which in turn affects how you feel physically. At the same time, how you feel physically and how healthy and fit your body is will affect your thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Yoga is a practice that takes into consideration the mind-body connection and aims to benefit both aspects of your being. While it may appear that yoga poses only deal with the physical body, your mental state is actually heavily influenced by the same poses. Each pose is able to strengthen and/or improve flexibility in your body while also stimulating the organs and improving circulation. At the same time, every pose is also meant to stimulate the brain, inducing calm and focus.
Try taking a yoga class or practicing yoga at home to take advantage of this practice's many benefits.
Learn to Breathe Better
Most of us take our breath for granted. We believe that because our lungs function all the time, without us having to tell them what to do, they must be doing what they're supposed to and require no improvement. However, this is not true. There are actually good ways to breathe and bad ways to breathe.
For example, did you know that most people breathe far too shallowly?
Indeed, many people breathe only the air that resides at the top of their lungs. This causes short, weak breaths that tire you out, and it causes “stale” air to be left in the bottom of your lungs.
To see if you do this, place one hand on your stomach and the other hand on your chest. Breathe normally. Do you feel the hand on your stomach rise as you inhale, or do you feel the hand on your chest rise? If you are feeling the hand on your chest rise as you exhale, this means that you are a shallow breather. Ideally, you should take your breaths much further down, gathering up all of the air from your lungs, starting at the bottom. To know if you're doing it right, as you inhale, you should feel the hand on your stomach rising, and the hand on your chest should hardly move.
Breathing exercises are often one of the most useful techniques for relaxing the mind. There are numerous different breathing exercises to choose from. Here’s one to get you started:
- Find a quiet place to sit where your back will be supported.
- Place one hand on your stomach and the other chest.
- Keep your back straight, pretending that you have a string running from the base of your spine up through your back and neck and out the top of your head. Imagine the string attaching to the ceiling and keeping your spine straight and upright.
- Lightly close your eyes.
- Take several deep breaths, without worrying about how you’re breathing.
- Take a deep breath and, and as you inhale, feel your belly and the hand on your belly rise. Breathe slowly, and as you do so, say to yourself “I inhale quiet and peace.”
- When you can no longer take air in, begin to slowly release the breath and exhale. As you do so, say to yourself, “I exhale tension and stress.”
Repeat this exercise for five to ten minutes or as long as you please to relax the mind.
Relaxation Tip in a Pinch!
Let’s say you’re about to go on stage for a big performance and your mind is racing a mile a minute. In order to regain some peace and calm, you might try this quick relaxation tip. Follow these steps:
#1 – Find a quiet place.
Start by going somewhere quiet to center yourself. This might be another room in your home, the break room at work, outdoors, or even the restroom.
#2 – Sit down if possible.
If you can, find a chair where you can sit with your back supported. Ideally, you will be able to put your feet flat on the floor. Now, place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
#3 – Do a short breathing exercise.
This exercise is called the square breathing. You might also hear it called box breathing, four-part breathing, or 4x4 breathing. To do the square breathing exercise, follow the steps below:
- Exhale all of the air out of your lungs.
- Count to four slowly as you inhale through your nose only. As you inhale, you should feel the hand on your stomach rise. Your other hand should not move.
- Lightly hold the breath in your lungs for another count of four.
- Count to four a final time as you gently exhale the breath slowly out of your mouth. The hand on your stomach should fall again as you do this.
Repeat this exercise at least four times to relax.
Frequently Asked Questions About Mind Relaxation
Q: How can I stop thinking too much?
A: To stop thinking so much, practice mindfulness and meditation regularly. Just ten minutes of meditation practice each day can make a world of difference for your focus and concentration, allowing you to shift your focus when you begin thinking about things you don't want to ruminate on.
In some cases, distractions can be useful as well. Just be sure to choose healthy distractions, and don’t rely on them to keep you from thinking about anything serious. Distractions can be useful in specific situations when you simply can’t get yourself to stop ruminating about something.
If, for example, you find that it’s difficult to stop thinking about a recent breakup, try distracting your thoughts by spending time with friends, volunteering, exercising, engaging in favorite hobbies, or developing new hobbies.
Q: How can I calm my mind while I sleep?
A: Anxiety and stress are often accompanied by sleeplessness. Whether sleeplessness is caused by anxiety and stress or vice versa is up for debate and may vary from person to person, changing at different times in your life.
Still, one thing is for sure: Calming the mind can greatly benefit your sleep if you typically experience sleep issues. For an easier time getting to sleep and in order to stay in a deeper sleep for longer, try these mind relaxation tips:
- Try a short meditation session before bed (can be done in a chair or on a meditation cushion or while you are lying in bed with the covers on).
- Listen to white noise or nature sounds (like waves or a babbling brook) as you fall asleep.
- Do 5 to 10 minutes of yoga next to your bedside before sleep.
- Try to practice mindfulness as you fall asleep (focusing on your breath and the present moment and observing your thoughts, feelings, and emotions as they come and go).
- Listen to a recorded guided meditation as you fall asleep.
- Develop a nighttime routine in which you shut off all devices, dim the lights, and change into your pajamas approximately one half hour before you intend to fall asleep.
Q: What gets rid of anxiety?
A: Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this. Everyone’s anxiety is caused by different things, and as a result, what gets rid of one person’s anxiety may not do a thing for the next person.
The best solution is to use some combination of the above suggestions to cultivate a more relaxed mind. Likewise, you might try the following to improve your overall health and wellbeing and reduce daily stress:
- Eat a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and healthy fats.
- Exercise regularly, including both cardiovascular and strength training exercises in your routine.
- Improve your sleep by developing a sleep routine and aiming for at least 6 to 8 hours every night.
Invest in Better Stress Management and Enjoy a More Relaxed Mind All the Time
When the stress of life gets to you, and nothing seems to be going right, it can feel like a storm is raging in your mind. It’s at these times that having at least a few dependable mind relaxation tips in your back pocket is extremely useful and beneficial.
Use the techniques, tips, and tricks mentioned in this article to enjoy a more relaxed mind all the time — and particularly in those times of challenging stress and struggle.
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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.