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Relaxation Techniques and other Natural Remedies for Anxiety and Stress

Relaxation Techniques

Some amount of stress and anxiety is actually healthy because it can help you focus and sharpen your mind, but when it becomes overwhelming, it then produces debilitating effects on both the mind and the body. There are many simple natural remedies (yes, in addition to medication treatment and psychotherapy) that anyone can follow or practice to reduce anxiety and stress. These include relaxation techniques, which require little effort and can be used at any time.

Relaxation techniques induce a natural, physiological response to stress, a reaction when one does not know it is happening.

Relaxation is defined as a psychophysical state in which a person feels free from stress and tension. Achieving a state of relaxation means gaining the ability to control the level of physical activation in order to produce a state that is ready for freedom from tension. When stress and anxiety affect the body's normal functioning, relaxation can be a helpful way to regain personal balance.


In Eastern countries relaxation techniques have been used for many centuries and those who practice Yoga take it for granted. In the West, there was little interest in these methods until just a few decades ago, when the human body began to be seen as a complex system influenced by the interaction of the mind with the body.

A fundamental contribution towards the study of relaxation and its therapeutic practice was made by professor J. H. Schultz, who developed the method of Autogenous Training. With this method a light trance is self-induced through the technique of autosuggestion, which leads to a state of physical and mental relaxation. Following Schultz’s studies, many psychologists and physicians began using relaxation techniques in addition to conventional therapies.

Because of the growing interest in this area of study, we now know that different techniques can be adapted to different personality types (see Psychotherapies). The techniques described in this section should not be construed as an alternative to psychotherapy itself but rather as an additional practice or more simply as relaxation exercises that can be used at home in our free time. Anyone can practice and benefit from these exercise.

Before starting the exercises, a preparatory phase is necessary to predispose the mind and body for the main phase of relaxation:

  • Wear loose, comfortable clothes and take off your shoes before beginning;

  • Sit in an armchair or on a divan or low seat, or lie down on a bed, making sure that no parts of the body are strained or under tension;

  • Whether sitting or lying down, let your body take the most comfortable position. The important thing is to feel comfortable;

  • It may be useful to spend a few moments just letting yourself relax naturally on the soft surface of the seat or bed;

  • If you are sitting, rest your arms on your legs or on the arm-rests of the chair;

  • If you are lying down, rest your arms beside your body.

  • It's better to practice the relaxation techniques with your eyes shut.

Breathing Exercise (Controlled Respiration)

  • Close your eyes;

  • Breathe in deeply and slowly, counting up to 3;

  • Drive the air that you breathe in down to your belly, and let it gradually fill your lungs completely;

  • Hold your breath for about 3 seconds;

  • Don’t be in a hurry; take the time you need;

  • Breathe out slowly, counting up to 5;

  • Don’t force your breathing too much: keep it fluid and regular;

  • Repeat the exercise;

  • Concentrate your attention on your rising belly and follow up as far as your chest;

  • Use your nose to breathe in and your mouth to breathe out;

  • As you are breathing, try to free your mind from any problems and worries you may have;

  • Imagine that your thoughts are drifting away together with the air that is leaving your body;

  • Remain calm and relaxed;

  • Concentrate on your breathing and repeat the exercise for about 10 minutes;

  • If you concentrate on your breathing, it is far less likely you will be captured by unpleasant thoughts.
Practice these exercises for a few days and you will be able to attain a state of relaxation very easily.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

This technique, PMR, based on the alternate contraction and release of certain muscle groups, was developed in the 1930s by the American physician and psycho-physiologist Edmund Jacobson.

Helpful Hints :-
  • To achieve the maximum degree of relaxation you will have to practice regularly. You must not allow more than 4 days to pass between one session and the next;

  • The duration of the exercise should be 30 - 45 minutes. During this time you should avoid any distractions;

  • It is important to wear loose, comfortable clothes. The room you practice in should have dim lighting and the temperature should be at a comfortable level;

  • Lie down on a hard surface with your legs lying slightly apart and let your arms rest on the side of your body. Let your feet relax and fall loosely outwards;

  • Before doing the exercise itself, breathe deeply, using the methods described above.

How to do Progressive Muscle Relaxation

  • Pull your toes back (upwards) towards your body, and maintain this position for 2-3 seconds. Release the tension and relax for about 15 seconds;

  • Now bend your toes forward as if trying to place the sole of your foot on the floor. Maintain this position for a while and then relax;

  • First with one leg and then with the other, contract the muscles in your leg, keeping your foot at an angle of 90 degrees. Maintain the tension for a while and then relax;

  • Contract the buttocks and pelvis, maintaining and then releasing the tension;

  • Contract your abdominal muscles, pulling in your belly. Maintain the position and then relax;

  • Now do the same with your arms, starting with your hands. Tighten your fist and then release the tension;

  • Contract the muscles of the arms, bending back your forearm towards the upper arm and maintaining the tension, bringing your wrist back as close as possible to your shoulder. Stretch your arm again on the floor and relax;

  • Press your arms in against your chest and hips and at the same time draw your shoulders down and forwards. Now relax;

  • Move your shoulders down and backwards to contract the shoulder area and shoulder-blades. Contract the muscles and then relax;

  • For the muscles of the back of the head, pull your shoulders up, contracting the trapezius muscles and enclosing your head between them. Contract the muscles and then relax;

  • Contract your forehead and tightly close your eyes. Press your lips tightly together as much as you can. Maintain these positions and then relax;

  • At the end of the exercise keep lying down for a few minutes, trying to perceive the sense of deep relaxation. Continue breathing deeply.
  
  Read more in details on Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Meditation

Leave aside and discard all of your worries and tension. Sit down with your legs crossed in a comfortable position, trying to keep your spine as straight as possible;

If you like, sit on a chair, but keep your back completely straight;

Close your eyes, keep them still and relaxed under the eyelids;

Once your body has taken a comfortable position and is completely relaxed, you can begin to pay attention to distant noises and sounds, which may also be coming from a distance outside the room. Focus your attention on these sounds;

Listen to the sounds in this way for a few minutes, without any haste, concern or any specific objective;

Now, limit the field of your conscious perception to the room you are sitting in;

Don’t open your eyes, but try to perceive the walls, the roof, the floor and the things around you;

Now focus your attention on yourself. Observe/perceive yourself sitting in this meditative state and be aware of your own body and your physical existence;

Withdraw now from this state of concentration and allow yourself to be filled by a sense of calm and serenity;

You will now notice that your breathing has slowed down, but at the same time also more evident;

Now, pay attention to your breathing. Your attention is now fully focused on your breathing;

You are now perfectly aware of your entire being, in the present, here and now;

What you are experiencing is a state of consciousness, a state of existence. You have become one with your consciousness and you can now stay in this state, in a natural and very enjoyable way, as long as you can;

If any thoughts arise, just observe them, but do this while keeping yourself at a distance. Don’t let yourself get caught up in them: don’t become involved with your thoughts;

Train yourself to remain detached. Observe your mind from the outside, and do not allow yourself become preoccupied with your own feelings and emotions. ‘Devitalize’ your thoughts by simply removing their emotional aspect. In this way they will remain in your memory as merely useful experiences. They will no longer disturb you;

When you decide to end your meditation, you should do so slowly and gradually, going back along the track you took to get to this point, and slowly drawing back concentration from the center of your mind to the outside, sideways until you regain normal consciousness of your physical body and external sounds.

Relax yourself from this position slowly and gradually.

Bear in mind that prolonged meditation will induce a much slower heartbeat and can make your blood pressure fall quite considerably: a sudden re-awakening from this state might be traumatic. The sound of a telephone or any other sudden noise occurring during deep meditation can even cause your heart to miss a beat. This is why you have to be careful when deciding on where you are going to practice and under what conditions.

  Read more in details on Meditation

Effects of exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety

Regular physical activity has many beneficial effects on both your body and mind. Studies show that, if practiced regularly (and not excessively), sports and exercise can prevent and reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress. Besides improving a person's health and reducing stress and anxiety, it helps relieve muscle tension and induce a state of somnolence.

Physical exercises also has a positive effect on the blood circulation and neuronal activity and causes an increased release of endorphins. Endorphins are organic chemical substances produced by the brain, which produce physiological effects similar to those of morphine and opium, and have analgesic and energy-enhancing properties.

A very interesting aspect of the endorphins lies in their mood-regulating capacity. In particularly stressful situations, the human body attempts to defend itself by releasing endorphins, which, on the one hand help us to endure pain more easily and, on the other, have a positive influence on our mood.

Apart from this, physical activity presents many other benefits in terms of mental health. It enhances our sense of self-worth and improves feelings of self-confidence. Often, when people are very anxious, they tend to avoid various activities that they find difficult or threatening. Practicing sports implies setting goals, no matter how important, to help us feel more confident in our ability to achieve our aims. The goals that we set for ourselves nevertheless obviously have to be in line with our strengths and abilities.

We need to adapt physical activity to our daily habits so that it becomes an integrated part of our daily routine. It must not be a burden or just an added problem to deal with. Physical exercise and sport should rather be a pleasant pastime and a moment when we can dedicate time to ourselves.

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