Relaxing isn’t always easy, especially when we’re stressed or anxious. Our minds run at a fast speed, and negative thoughts appear more often, repetitively. Our bodies send us signals when we’re activated and we experience things like racing heartbeats, sweaty hands, and automatic negative thoughts.
There are many different reasons why relaxation can be difficult for us. Maybe we’re anxious or stressed about a situation. Or perhaps we’re excited and cannot wait for something to happen. Or we may feel restless due to uncertainty. The first step toward relaxing is understanding yourself. How do you react to certain stimuli? Learning how stress and anxiety work can be helpful when trying to figure out how you’re feeling. As you learn more about these challenging emotions, you’ll become less judgmental and more accepting of yourself.
You can benefit from some stress management techniques supported by scientific evidence when you need to relax. Research shows that Progressive Muscle Relaxation, mindful breathing, and metta meditation are effective methods when it comes to letting go of repetitive negative thoughts. The more you let go of those persistent thoughts, the more you relax.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a method in which you contract and relax your muscles as you scan your body while taking deep breaths. Lie down in a comfortable position and start to scan your body. With each deep breath, first contract then relax muscles of your feet, your hands, your glutes, and your face muscles. Continue the exercise for any muscles you can contract and relax.
Evidence shows that psychoeducation reduces the symptoms of psychological distress. Knowledge is one of the most effective methods to cope with stress and can be the first step toward working on yourself.
Psychoeducation basically means learning about how the mind works. Read some material about stress, collecting general information about how stress and anxiety work. In this way, you’ll be better equipped to identify how your mind and body react when you’re feeling restless, anxious, or stressed. Knowing why you’re feeling the way you do can reduce uncertainty, helping you to accept and move through this unpleasant experience.
Sometimes it gets even harder to make sense of what’s going on in our minds. Processing out loud and expressing ourselves to another person enables us to name our feelings and talk through our needs. Seek out that social support. Share your feelings. Engage in a compassionate conversation with people you feel safe around. The feeling of belonging and connection can have a soothing effect as you feel seen, heard, and cared for.
Tune into your body. Hear your body’s needs: go to the bathroom, lie down, sleep, take a shower, eat, or drink. Sometimes we ignore the basic needs of our body, not realizing those needs are bothering us. Listen to and see if you can attend to your needs.
After addressing your basic physiological needs, go deeper. What else do you need? Identify if something in particular comes up for you.
Go outside and get some fresh air. If going out isn’t an option, open your window and let in some fresh air. Take a few deep breaths. Our body and mind are intimately connected. Sometimes we need to relax our body in order to relax our mind. Move your body. Run, stretch, walk. Dance to your favorite songs. Do what feels good. Movement can energize and invigorate you.
Meditation can be very effective as a tool for relaxation. A study showed that the use of meditation is more effective than PMR when it comes to reducing the stress symptoms of the workplace. Meditation can be helpful for several reasons. It enables you to accept what’s happening without judgment and it gives you an uninterrupted space where you can rest. Further, it allows your body to release tension through different breathing techniques that you can implement into your meditation practice.
Try this short, calming breathing technique or check out Meditopia's meditations for anxiety and stress.
Jack Kornfield, American author and Buddhist mindfulness practitioner, developed a technique called “Don’t Know Mind” that can be helpful during unsettling periods.
The technique basically says to:
- Sit quietly and focus on your breathing.
- Think of ten years from now and realize that you don’t know what will happen in the future.
- Think of the entire universe, the beginning of life, and again, realize how many things you don’t know about our existence.
- Try to approach a conflict or stress with this mindset.
Kornfield suggests that being mindful of what we don’t know about both the past and future can allow us to be more open about our internal and external worlds. This mindset helps you not to overthink, accepting the uncertainty of life. Sometimes we dwell in the “Why?” when faced with uncertainty. The human mind is not always friends with the unknown. It’s understandable because we have a natural impulse to make sense of things. We want to know what’s happening to and around us. We want clear and certain answers. Considering this inclination, it might actually be beneficial to see that there’s so much we don’t know and yet we’ve still survived, we’re still alive in the here and now.
Health professionals use devices to monitor your physiological responses such as heart rate or blood pressure. The idea behind biofeedback is that monitoring your body’s responses can form a sense of control and that will help you manage pain and relax. You can apply this principle to yourself. If your heart is racing or you’re breaking out in a cold sweat, notice those sensations and spend some time monitoring them. Remember, it’s always okay to stop if it doesn’t feel good to you and to seek professional assistance as needed.
If the solutions suggested above aren’t enough, don’t hesitate to seek help from professionals. You can see a therapist if you’re finding it especially difficult to relax. Psychotherapy has been shown as one of the best methods to manage challenging or difficult periods in our lives.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a clinically standardized meditation, which has also been found to be very effective for better mental health and stress reduction. There may be other underlying reasons causing you to experience restlessness, anxiety or stress. It’s highly recommended to work with a professional in those situations.
Try to stay with yourself for a while and rest. Don’t do anything in particular if that’s what you need as you allow yourself space to relax. After working through this first challenging period, it will get easier to sit with these difficult emotions. Once you’re ready, you can then observe your mind and how you’re feeling in the present moment. You’ll be able to see what’s triggering you after you relax your body.
These feelings aren’t easy. See if you can find an inner smile, even if it’s not reflected on your face right now. Trust that inner warmth that says it will be okay. Embracing a positive attitude, even through your hardest moments, doesn’t mean you’re denying what’s happening and how you’re feeling, but rather reminds you to hope, be patient, and know there’s strength within yourself.
Remember, “This feeling won’t last forever.” Nothing is permanent. You might be feeling irritated or like nothing will ever be okay. But it will. There’s joy within yourself. It will show up eventually, even if you can’t find it right now.