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Relaxation Techniques and other Natural Remedies for Anxiety and Stress

Relaxation Techniques

There are many simple natural remedies (of course, apart from medication treatment and psychotherapy) that anyone can follow or practice to reduce anxiety and stress. These include relaxation techniques, which require little effort and may be used at any time. Relaxation techniques induce a natural, physiological response to stress, a reaction which may also occur when one is not aware that it is happening.

Relaxation is defined as a psychophysical state in which an individual feels relieved from tension. To reach a state of relaxation means acquiring the capacity to control one’s level of physiological activation so as to generate a state conducive to freedom from tension. When stress and anxiety condition negatively impacts the normal functioning of the organism, relaxation can be a useful method for re-establishing one’s personal equilibrium.


In Eastern countries relaxation techniques have been used for many centuries and those who practice Yoga consider it a fundamental aspect of their discipline. In the West, little interest was shown in these techniques until just a few decades ago, when the human organism began to be seen as a complex system influenced by the interaction of the mind and 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, leading to a state of physical and mental relaxation. Following Schultz’s studies, many psychologists and physicians began to use relaxation techniques in addition to therapies of the more conventional type.

Thanks to a 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 considered as an alternative to psychotherapy itself but rather as a supplementary practice or more simply as relaxation exercises that can be used at home when we have some free time. Anyone can practice these exercises and benefit from them. They involve no contraindications or hazards of any kind.

Before starting the exercises, a preparatory phase is necessary to predispose the mind and body for the subsequent 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 groups of muscles, 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 should not let more than 4 days pass between one session and the next;

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

  • It is important to wear loose, comfortable clothes. The room you practice in should be darkened or 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 beside your body. Let your feet relax and fall loosely outwards;

  • Before doing the exercise itself, breathe deeply, using the techniques 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 you were 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 we can do the same with the 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. Extend your arm again on the floor and relax;

  • Press your arms in against your chest and hips and simultaneously 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 continue to lie on the floor for a few minutes, trying to perceive the sense of deep relaxation. Continue breathing deeply.
  
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Meditation

Cast aside and abandon all of your worries and tension. Sit on the floor with crossed legs in a comfortable position, trying to keep your spine as straight as possible;

If you prefer, sit on a chair, but still keeping your back perfectly straight;

Close your eyes, keeping them still and relaxed beneath the eyelids;

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

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

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

Don’t open your eyes, but try to perceive the walls, ceiling, the floor and the objects close to you;

Now focus your attention on yourself. Perceive yourself sitting in this meditative state and start to perceive your own body and your physical existence;

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

You will now note that your breathing has become slower, but at the same time also more evident;

Now, gently, draw your attention to your breathing. Your attention is now focused entirely on your breathing;

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

What you are experiencing is a state of consciousness, a state of being. You have become one with your consciousness and you can now remain in this state, in a natural and very pleasurable way, for as long as you are able;

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

Train yourself to remain detached. Observe your mind from the outside, and don’t let yourself become involved with your 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 gradually, going back along the route you followed to reach this point, and slowly drawing back concentration from the center of your being towards the outer, peripheral areas until you regain normal consciousness of your physical body and external sounds.

Loosen 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


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