Positive Mental Health & Relaxation

Relaxation and mental health

The WHO World Mental Health Day 2018 places the spotlight on adolescents & young adults, and the burden of emotional health issues in light of life changes. In the bustle of a modern world, everyone experiences stress in one form or another, but the way that it affects each person differs. On top of building resilience, understanding and utilizing relaxation techniques can also go a long way in enhancing our sense of well-being and emotional health.

The Biology of Stress

In times of stress, our body system goes into a “fight or flight” response. As part of this natural response, our bodies then start releasing different chemicals  including adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol.These chemicals result in bodily symptoms such as an increased heart rate, increased breathing rate and muscle tension.

These hormonal and physiological changes are meant to be adaptive, in order to help us to face a threat or escape to safety. On the other hand, the body can also overreact to stressors in everyday life such as difficulties at school, work, or relationships. Over time, chronic stress can predispose to high blood pressure, poor sleep (insomnia), and emotional health issues such as anxiety and depression.

Using relaxation techniques can help to counter the physiological reactions to chronic stress. During this period of deep relaxation, the body can experience the following:

  • A fall in heart and breathing rates
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Improved energy and focus
  • Reduced tiredness, anger, and frustration

Which relaxation techniques are best for me?

As everyone experiences stress differently, finding the relaxation method that works for the individual is important. As a start, it can be useful to experience different techniques to find out what works for you. Even more importantly, the technique you choose should be easily incorporated into your daily routine to keep stress levels under control.

Examples of relaxation techniques

There are a variety of relaxation techniques, such as:

  • Deep breathing  
Deep breathing focuses on deep, slow, even breaths and is a simple but often-overlooked method of relaxation. There are several technique variations that can be mastered easily, including controlled breathing and diaphragmatic breathing.
  • Guided imagery
Guided imagery focuses on replacing negative feelings with positive, pleasant images, touches, smells, tastes, and sounds. Very often, the therapist will start with a simple visualization technique in order to guide you into a safe and pleasant image. It is often useful to go through this technique first with your therapist or doctor. When you get more comfortable with it, you can then easily practice in the comfort of your own time and space.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
This method of relaxation involves tensing and releasing the tension in various muscle groups. By the end of a session, you would have tensed and relaxed your entire body progressively. Progressive Muscle Relaxation can be especially helpful for anxiety-related problems and insomnia.
  • Mindfulness Practice
During mindful meditation, people are encouraged to pay attention to the present. As part of mindfulness, Body Scan meditation is a specific technique that takes only a short amount of time and is easily incorporated into even a hectic schedule. During a Body Scan session, you gently pay attention to the sensations felt in various parts of the body.

Even daily activities can be relaxing

In addition, many people find that even certain daily activities can induce a state of calm and relaxation in them. Many of these activities involve slow or rhythmic patterns, such as:

  • taking a slow, relaxing swim
  • listening to relaxing music
  • being out in nature
  • watching a tranquil scene such as an aquarium

These activities are by no means standalone – you can even incorporate techniques such as deep breathing or mindfulness during these activities to reap even more benefit.

Helpful tips

As with many skills, relaxation is sometimes a skill that needs to be honed and practiced for the best effect. Here are some pointers:

  • Try to practice daily – you need not use up a lot of time; even 5-10 minutes of relaxation before bedtime is beneficial!
  • Combine formal techniques with everyday activities, such as: doing breathing exercises in tune with relaxing music, or practicing mindfulness while walking home from work.
  • Don’t be discouraged during the process of learning. Remember, these are skills that need some getting used to. Over time, your mind and body will find it easier and easier to focus on these techniques and even incorporate them into your daily routine.
  • It is often very beneficial to get guidance. There are many resources available for specific techniques such as mindfulness. In addition, consider asking your psychiatrist or therapist to go through some of these techniques with you.