Relaxation techniques to reduce stress and anxiety

Many of us are on the hunt for relaxation techniques that help us to reduce stress, and for good reason. The Office for National Statistics says that ‘the number of people reporting high levels of anxiety has sharply elevated during the coronavirus pandemic’. In fact, figures suggest that 19 million adults in Great Britain report high levels of anxiety.

Stress is a natural part of life. In short bursts it can help us to perform better, cope with potentially serious situations and build our resilience. But it can take its toll on our health when stress is ongoing or feeling overwhelming.

What is the stress response?

The stress response releases a number of hormones that work to keep us safe, including cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones increase our heart and breathing rate, decrease our hunger levels and increase the amount of sugars in our bloodstream for energy. All of these contribute to our ‘fight-or-flight’ response to get us away from danger.

While we evolved this response to get away from lions on the savannah, our modern-day lives can also switch this response on in the same way. A late-night email from work, an argument with a loved one and taking on too much can all trigger the stress response.

Having this response chronically activated can increase our risk for a number of health issues including weight gain, sleep problems, difficulty concentrating and heart disease, to name just a few. Research shows it can also impact the efficiency of our immune system.

Relaxation techniques to reduce stress and anxiety

The good news is there are a number of simple relaxation techniques that you can employ to help you reduce stress and anxiety. Here are a few of our favourites.

Get moving

It can feel tempting to sit down in a corner and weep when it all gets too much, but movement really is medicine when it comes to stress.

Whether you run, walk, do some yoga stretches or just have a good dance around your living room, movement reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Not only that, exercise helps to release endorphins, helping to lift our mood.

Explore nature

Going outside and immersing yourself in nature can be an excellent way to relax. Take your time once outside to be mindful and notice what’s around you. The repeating patterns in nature – known as fractals – can also help us to feel calm.

Whether it’s the veins of a leaf, the branches of a tree or cloud formations, fractals can help to soothe our minds. Psychologists and neuroscientists say that, as humans, we’re particularly good at visually processing these patterns. Our brains feel so at ease and comfortable when we look at fractal patterns that we find gazing at them actively soothing.

Not only that, but the colour green – the second most prevalent palette in the natural world – has been shown to help our brains and nervous systems feel calm when we look at it.

Schedule me-time

When we’re juggling caring for loved ones whilst pursuing a career and managing daily chores, our own self-care can all to easily fall to the bottom of the to-do list.

Carving out time for yourself is a fantastic way to reduce stress levels – especially when you get time to do something that you really enjoy.

Whether it’s yoga, painting, sewing or football, making the time to do something you love can help to relax your mind. Not convinced you have the time in the first place? Setting your alarm a little earlier, or squeezing an activity into a lunchtime break, can be effective ways to allow more ‘me-time’ into your day.

Write it down

It’s easy to feel anxious and stressed when there’s umpteen things buzzing around your head. Writing a list of everything that you need to get done can really help to clear your mind. What’s more, writing things down makes it easier to prioritise tasks.

Similarly, if there’s a scenario that you can’t stop thinking about in your mind, journalling can help. Start by writing down whatever is on your mind, describing what it is that’s causing you stress. Once you’ve written it all down, take a moment to read through your words. Seeing things on paper can sometimes help clarify a dilemma. Consider if there’s anything you can do to change your circumstances or thoughts in this present moment. It may also help to explore different ways that you could approach the same situation – perhaps ones that help you to feel a little more in control.

Spend time with loved ones

Spending time with those you love can be a rewarding way to reduce stress and lift your mood. If you’re unable to spend time with your nearest and dearest in person, schedule in phone calls or chats over Zoom.

If you have time, consider writing a letter to a loved one, too. Not only does writing keep you focused on the present moment, reducing stress levels, it’s also a wonderfully thoughtful surprise for any friend to receive.

Bond with your pets

If you have pets at home, you’ll know how uplifting it can be to see the wag of their tail, or hear their soft paws pattering across the floor. Spending time with pets is also a proven effective relaxation technique.

Scientists at Washington State University have found that pets can actively reduce our stress levels. Just 10 minutes a day interacting with cats and dogs significantly reduces our levels of cortisol.

What more excuse do you need for extra pet cuddles?

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