Guide to Relaxation
Breathe…and relax. Take a minute to think about how you are holding yourself right now, how your head, neck and shoulders feel. Do you often feel like a wound-up coil, ready to explode?
Relaxation is one of the many areas you can embrace when thinking about self-care and self-love. It can also help to improve your body’s reaction to stress. However, ways of relaxing will mean different things to different people.
How does relaxing positively affect our bodies?
Helps you to focus and concentrate
Improves sleep quality and getting to sleep
Lowers heart rate and blood pressure
Balances your blood sugar
Balances sex hormones
Conversely, if we don’t make time to relax or recognise when we need to relax, we can start to suffer the consequences in the form of a range of symptoms, such as;
Gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhoea, constipation, piles, reflux, and bloating)
Trouble getting to sleep or wakefulness
Always feeling in a ‘hyper’ state and not being able to relax
Anxiety and/or depression
Low and/or angry mood
Impact others around you
Worse still, long term stress and the inability to relax can lead to weight gain/weight loss, high blood pressure, diabetes, atherosclerosis, chronic skin issues and negatively impact the immune system (more likely to be susceptible to coughs and colds, cold sores etc) (1), (2).
Each person will deal with stress differently (depending on their genetic vulnerability, coping style, support and personality), and some people will find ways to relax that may mitigate much of the physiological impact of stress(3). It’s important to note that not all stress has a negative effect. Studies have shown that short-term stress can actually boost the immune system, but chronic long-term stress, has a significant effect on the immune system that can manifest into illness and disease (2).
What prevents us from relaxing?
Humans have never been so distracted. The 24/7 triggers and interruptions affect our ability to relax. We are constantly being stimulated by technology - whether it is notifications on our phones, email inbox filling up fast, world news, or the busyness of our environment - we’re permanently ’switched on’(4)! An increasing number of us are finding it almost impossible to ‘switch off’, due to the pressure felt to always be online and immediately respond - whatever the hour.
So how can we find ways to relax?
It really is a personal choice. What might be one person’s method of relaxation might induce stress in another, so it’s important to find your own strategies.
However, the research suggests that mindfulness, breathing exercises and meditation are all great ways to relax for many, and can improve anxiety, depression, immune response and clarity and focus. (5) (6)
Exercise is also a proven way to relax for many people. Exercise can both exhilarate and relax - providing stimulation and calm to counter depression and reduce stress. (7)
Set yourself boundaries. A life without boundaries is a chaotic one. For those who have children, we often set boundaries for our children, but don’t think of setting them for ourselves. Boundaries which can be helpful when trying to relax more could be;
Setting a bedtime for yourself which you stick to every night, along with a relaxing bedtime routine, such as having a bath and turning any technology off at least 1 hour before bed.
Turning notifications off on your phone.
Reduce or eliminate eating on the go - rest and digest.
Booking in ‘you’ time each month.
Setting time aside to relax every day.
There is no doubt that putting relaxation methods in place will benefit your physical and mental health. Start today by setting some boundaries and thinking about what really helps you relax.
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Salleh MR. Life event, stress and illness. Malays J Med Sci. 2008 Oct;15(4):9-18. PMID: 22589633; PMCID: PMC3341916.
Mariotti A. The effects of chronic stress on health: new insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain-body communication. Future Sci OA. 2015 Nov 1;1(3):FSO23. doi: 10.4155/fso.15.21. PMID: 28031896; PMCID: PMC5137920.
Ising M, Holsboer F. Genetics of stress response and stress-related disorders. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2006;8(4):433-44. doi: 10.31887/DCNS.2006.8.4/mising. PMID: 17290801; PMCID: PMC3181835.
Small GW, Lee J, Kaufman A, Jalil J, Siddarth P, Gaddipati H, Moody TD, Bookheimer SY. Brain health consequences of digital technology use. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2020 Jun;22(2):179-187. doi: 10.31887/DCNS.2020.22.2/gsmall. PMID: 32699518; PMCID: PMC7366948.
Davidson, Richard J. PhD et al. Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine 65(4):p 564-570, July 2003. | DOI: 10.1097/01.PSY.0000077505.67574.E3
Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga EMS, et al. Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(3):357–368. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018
Toussaint L, Nguyen QA, Roettger C, Dixon K, Offenbächer M, Kohls N, Hirsch J, Sirois F. Effectiveness of Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Deep Breathing, and Guided Imagery in Promoting Psychological and Physiological States of Relaxation. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2021 Jul 2;2021:5924040. doi: 10.1155/2021/5924040. PMID: 34306146; PMCID: PMC8272667.