Relax your mind | Eight relaxation techniques for a calmer mind

We all know the benefits of relaxation and that we should be doing it more, but a lot of us don’t really know how. Making a conscious effort to relax might sound counterintuitive, but learning how to deliberately unwind can have a tangible positive impact on our long-term health and wellbeing.

Making time for some tried and tested relaxation techniques will mean you feel less stressed and more grounded in the long run.

Whether it’s stress at work, physical tension, or worries and anxieties about the future, taking some time out in the evening to practice relaxation can help.

What does relaxation actually involve?

Relaxation isn’t all difficult yoga poses and sitting in silence for hours on end. Relaxation can be whatever helps works best for you. It is important however to think of relaxation as different to rest. We rest every night when we sleep, but for many, relaxation can be harder to find time for.

Relaxation is anything that calms the mind whilst we’re awake. Effective relaxation techniques are designed to reduce stress on the mind and body. While you can rest passively just by sitting down in front of the TV, relaxation requires a conscious effort to help focus and calm the mind.

Which relaxation technique is right for me?

Which techniques work for you depend on your environment and what you’re looking to get out of them. See our list below to find out which techniques can help you:

  • Meditation: focus, grounding, mental health, anxiety
  • Body scan meditationmind/body connection, sleep
  • Mindfulness practicefocus, grounding, anxiety, sensory appreciation
  • Taste and smell focus: sensory appreciation, relaxation recollection
  • Breath management: anxiety, panic, fight or flight management
  • Yogaphysical relaxation, grounding
  • Massage and self-massagephysical relaxation, pain relief
  • Progressive muscle relaxation: sleep, physical relaxation, tension relief.

Relax in a way that works for you

It’s no good struggling through with a technique that doesn’t work for you. You’ll end up more stressed out than when you started. If a friend or colleague suggests a wellbeing practice that doesn’t do much for you, don’t force it.

Relaxation is all about results. If you find paid options like massage therapy or acupuncture work best for you, continue to explore them. There are however, a number of free techniques that you can use throughout your day to help reduce mental stress and physical tension.

Eight relaxation techniques

1. Meditation

Meditation is an ancient practice that has been used as a relaxation technique for thousands of years. Encompassing a wide range of techniques aimed at calming the mind, meditation aims to guide us toward a state of mental clarity and inner peace.

By focusing one's attention and eliminating distractions, meditation relaxes the mind and body in a quiet setting. The practice of meditation can take various forms. These include mindfulness meditation, loving-kindness meditation, or transcendental meditation.

2. Body scan meditation

Body scan meditation involves systematically directing attention through different parts of the body. During this practice, individuals cultivate a heightened awareness of physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts without judgment or attachment.

A body scan meditation allows the practitioner to develop a deeper mind/body connection. It’s a great way to understand more about the relationship between our physical and mental selves. Body scanning is most effective when you’re laid down on your bed and is particularly helpful for those of us who find drifting off to sleep difficult.

3. Mindfulness and appreciating the present

Mindfulness is the art of living in the present moment and paying non-judgmental attention to one's thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Rooted in Buddhist philosophy, mindfulness is all about acceptance and detachment from external distractions.

Mindful individuals have an increased ability to manage stress, anxiety, and negative thought patterns. To start practicing mindfulness, simply acknowledge what you can see, hear, taste and smell. Focus on seeing the thoughts that accompany any sensory input arrive and leave without judgement.

4. Focus on taste and smell

We don’t always have the time to practice a full meditation or mindfulness exercise, but smell is a powerful tool for evoking memories and feelings. we can train the body to associate a particular scent with the feeling of being relaxed.

The next time you’re in the bath, reading a book, unwinding before bed, or having a massage – try using something scented, or ask the beauty therapist which products they’re using.

Then, when you need to re-centre and calm yourself, using a hand cream or perfumed oil with the same scent can help take you back to when you were calm. Some scented products are specifically designed to elicit certain feelings – calm, energy, and a still mind.

5. Breath management

Also known as breathwork or controlled breathing, deliberate regulation of one's breath is a deliberate way of bringing heart rate down and achieve specific physical, mental, and emotional outcomes.

There are a wide range of breathing techniques that vary in complexity and technique. These include diaphragmatic breathing, alternate nostril breathing, pursed lip breathing, lions breath and resonant breathing.

The best way to start is to simply focus on taking deep, deliberate breaths. To start, close your eyes and exhale deeply, counting to five. Hold the breath for five more seconds at the top of the inhale, then exhale deliberately for five seconds, making sure to mentally focus on your count as you release.

6. Yoga

Yoga is a great way to promote relaxation at home or in a class at your local health and wellbeing centre. It’s an ancient practice that integrates physical postures, breath control, meditation, and ethical principles to promote holistic well-being.

With origins in India, yoga has evolved into various styles and forms, including Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, and Kundalini. Beyond its physical benefits of increased flexibility, strength, and balance, yoga fosters mental clarity, emotional harmony, and spiritual growth.

Practitioners often find that regular yoga practice enhances their mind-body connection and overall sense of relaxation and tranquillity.

7. Massage and self-massage

It’s not often we delicate time to looking after our muscles. We spend all day either sat down or on the go and take little notice of what that’s doing to our bodies.

Massage is a therapeutic practice that offers a myriad of relaxation benefits for both the body and mind. A trained massage therapist can target the tension and stress stored in muscles, tendons, and soft tissue. Gentle or applied pressure helps blood flow to increase, promoting the release of toxins that induces a feeling of relaxation.

This indulgent therapy isn’t just about alleviating physical discomfort. Massage also helps us feel emotionally balanced. Whether you’re looking for relief from everyday stress or you’re yearning for some self-care and pampering, massage is a great way to give your mind and muscles the relaxation they are craving.

8. Progressive muscle relaxation

By systematically tensing and relaxing different muscle groups, practitioners of progressive muscle relaxation become more aware of bodily sensations and areas of stress. As the body releases accumulated tension, stress and anxiety start to diminish.

This practice can be easily incorporated into your daily routine. It’s convenient and effective and can be done almost anywhere. Start by simply tensing your legs or arms and releasing them for a few seconds at a time. With regular practice, you’ll soon find that you’re able to achieve a deeper state of relaxation that helps you relax and refocus.

What are the benefits of these relaxation techniques?

Relaxation isn’t just for your mind. Research suggests that relaxing and calming ourselves down can have a positive effect on our physical health too.

Take a look below to find out more about what learning how to relax can do for your health and wellbeing:

  • Improved circulation
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Manage anxiety and rapid thoughts
  • Increased blood flow to muscles
  • Lower production of stress hormones
  • Fatigue management
  • Improved sleep quality
  • Reduced anger, irritation and frustration
  • Better digestion

Living a low-stress life

Being busy doesn’t have to mean being stressed. The idea behind learning and practising relaxation techniques is that we understand how to manage and process the things going on in our day-to-day lives.

It’s important to remember that practising relaxation won’t eliminate stress from your life. What it can do, is help fortify your response mechanism to stressful input. This means that you become more resilient in the face of situations which used to induce an intense mental and emotional response.

Managing fight-or-flight situations

Stressful situations induce our fight or flight response. This is our mind’s way of saying act now or run away from the situation. In this situation, we likely feel anxiety, which can manifest via irregular and shallow breathing, sweaty palms and feelings of fear and worry amongst other symptoms.

Whilst stress and anxiety are two very different things, one technique that’s effective for managing both is to concentrate and focus on our breathing. One of the physical responses we have to a perceived threat is shallow and irregular breathing.

When a panic inducing situation presents itself, stop what you’re doing and take five deep, slow breaths. Breathe in for five beats, and out for five. Allow your chest to expand and your belly to rise as your lungs fill with air. At the end of the exhale, try making a ‘shh’ sound as you squeeze the last of the air out. If you can, try to remove yourself from the stressful situation while you do this.

When to seek professional help

Whilst we all experience anxiety, worry and stress, these emotional responses can be debilitating for some. If your day-to-day life is being impacted by any of the above, speaking with a professional is a great first step to make.

Last updated Friday 25 August 2023

First published on Thursday 11 May 2017