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10 relaxation techniques to reduce stress on-the-spot

If your hectic lifestyle is getting to be too much for you, experts say relaxation techniques can bring you back into balance -- some in five minutes or less.
By Jenny Stamos Kovacs
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

The children need a lift to school, your husband can't find his underwear, your boss has just scheduled an online meeting, and your best friend desperately needs your help - all at the same time.

Is it any wonder that you can't find a minute for relaxation? In fact, if you're like most women, you may have even forgotten how to relax.

While experts say that some stress is good for you (it can sharpen your senses and your mind) too much stress is bad for your mental and physical health. At the same time, relaxation can do wonders to restore balance in your life and may even reduce some of the health risks associated with stress.

We talked to the experts to learn more about relaxation and how to attain it. What follows are 10 on-the-spot techniques you can use (any time and almost anywhere) to reduce tension in your life.

1. Meditate

If you think meditation means twisting your body into an uncomfortable position and uttering ‘oohs’ and ‘omms’ for an hour, guess again. Dr Herbert Benson, author of The Relaxation Response, says any repetitive action can be a source of meditation. Benson, who is also director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine in the US, says meditation includes walking, swimming, painting, knitting - any activity that helps keep your attention calmly in the present moment.

If you catch yourself thinking about your job, your relationship or your list of things to do, experts say to simply let the thought escape, and bring your mind back to the repetition of the activity. Try it for just five to 10 minutes a day and watch stress levels drop.

2. Picture yourself relaxed

Is your mind too talkative to meditate? Try creating a peaceful visualisation, or ‘dreamscape’. To start simply visualise anything that keeps your thoughts away from current tensions. It could be a favourite holiday spot, a fantasy island, a short break in London - or something ‘touchable’ such as the feel of your favourite silk dressing gown or cosy jumper.

The idea is to take your mind off your stress, and replace it with an image that evokes a sense of calm. The more realistic your daydream (in terms of colours, sights, sounds, even touch and feel) the more relaxation you'll experience.

3. Breathe deeply

Feeling stressed evokes tense, shallow breathing, while calm is associated with relaxed breathing, says Michael Lee, author of Turn Stress into Bliss. So to turn tension into relaxation, he says, change the way you breathe.

Try this: let out a big sigh, dropping your chest and exhaling through gently pursed lips, says Joan Borysenko, director of Harvard University's Mind-Body Clinical Programmes. Now imagine your low tummy, or centre, as a deep powerful place. Feel your breath coming and going as your mind stays focused there. Inhale, feeling your entire tummy, sides and lower back expand. Exhale, sighing again as you drop your chest, and feeling your tummy, back and sides contract. Repeat 10 times, relaxing more fully each time.

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