A beginner's guide to relaxing

Making an effort to relax might sound counterintuitive, but it's vital to your emotional and physical wellbeing. Brendan Street, Professional Head of Emotional Wellbeing, suggests a few techniques to help you unwind before you unravel.

Roll with it

Stress triggers the same physical reaction as sensing danger - heart rate increases, adrenaline is released, and the body tenses up. Muscles contract to prepare for action, and to form a solid layer of protection for your vital organs.

When your body prepares for fight or flight, you can end up hunched and tense without realising it.

To counteract this, consciously relax your shoulders and upper body. Pull your core muscles in towards your spine, sit up straight, and roll your shoulders deeply. If that’s not comfortable, try pulling your shoulders tightly up to ears for a couple of seconds and then suddenly releasing them.

Gently and slowly lean your head from side to side, and breathe regularly while doing so. Releasing tension in your body will help to signal to your brain that you’re not about to do battle, and you should begin to feel calmer. Repeat as necessary.

Breathe in, breathe out

In preparation for fighting or fleeing, when you’re stressed your breathing may become shallow and even irregular. This can in turn make you feel more anxious, so nip it in the bud.

Stop what you’re doing and take some 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 and squeezing the last of the air out. Repeat this four or five times and check how you feel. If you can, try to remove yourself from the stressful situation while you do this. You could zone out by listening to a relaxing song, or a guided mindfulness body scan.

Carry some calm with you

You can train your body to associate a particular scent with the feeling of being relaxed.

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. Sensory cues to help you stay centred.

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, a still mind.

Talk to a therapist

If you'd like further advice you can book a call with one of our therapists at a time and date that is convenient for you by using the calendar below. A therapist will help you to understand why you feel like you do, give you time to explore your concerns, answer any questions you have, and if further therapy is required, will discuss with you what approach is right for you to enable you to feel better. If you choose to continue with therapy we can then arrange the support that you need with one of our mental health professionals. Your call will last approximately 30 minutes.

Last updated Friday 7 October 2022

First published on Thursday 11 May 2017