Updated April 09, 2014
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Relaxation techniques are strategies used to reduce stress and anxiety. These techniques can also be used to manage symptoms of panic disorder and help a person get through a panic attack. Relaxation techniques work to manage the fight-or-flight response, or stress reaction, that is frequently triggered among people with anxiety disorders.
The fight-or-flight reaction is responsible for causing feelings of extreme fear that typically outweigh any actual threat in the environment. For instance, people with agoraphobia often fear crowded areas or open spaces, where it would be difficult or embarrassing to escape during a panic attack. The fight-or-flight response often causes uncomfortable physical symptoms, such as accelerated heart rate, rapid breathing, and increased sweating. Relaxation techniques have been found to have the opposite effect on the body by improving the relaxation response, lowering heart rate, reducing bodily tensions, decreasing negative thoughts, and boosting self-esteem and problem-solving skills.
Listed here are the top 4 relaxation strategies for anxiety. To get the most out of these relaxation techniques, it is important that you practice them often and at times when you are not feeling highly anxious. Pick a technique that appeals to you and fits in with your lifestyle. Aim to practice it for at least 5-10 minutes a day. Through regular practice, you will be prepared to use the techniques whenever panic and anxiety strike.
Breathing exercises are the foundation of many other relaxation techniques and are very easy to learn. These exercises work to help you breathe slowly and deeply, which can allow you to feel more relaxed. Breathing exercises have been known to have a cleansing effect, making you feel energized and refreshed. Deep breathing also brings your focus and attention to the breathing process, therefore clearing your mind and helping you to control the rhythm of your breath. These exercises can assist with reducing muscle tension, along with improving other common symptoms of panic, such as decreasing rapid heart rate and managing shortness of breath.
Visualization is a powerful way to let go of stress and anxiety. Through visualization, you use your imagination to picture yourself in a more calming and serene environment, such as at a beach or in a flower-covered meadow. Visualization works to relax your body and soothe your thoughts. By simply seeing yourself in a more rejuvenating setting, you can actually allow your mind and body feel as though you are there.
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is an effective anxiety-reducing technique that involves decreasing the tension throughout your body while calming any anxious thoughts. PMR involves tightening and releasing various muscle groups to lessen bodily tension. By focusing your attention on letting go of stress throughout the body, you are also able to quiet and calm your mind. When practiced over time, PMR can help you recognize when your muscles are constricted and more easily release physical discomfort that is contributing to your anxiety.
Many people find yoga and meditation to be useful ways to reduce stress and anxiety. Yoga can help you to let go of tension throughout the body, improve concentration, and relax. Meditation can be used alone or as part of a yoga practice and is also a great way to assist you in feeling more balanced, calm, and focused. These relaxation techniques can be practiced upon waking to relieve and reduce morning anxiety and start the day feeling refreshed. They can also be used at the end of the day to let go of any built-up stress and tension.
Relaxation techniques can be even more effective when included with your overall wellness and self-care practices. Self-care strategies consist of activities that enhance your health, including the emotional, physical, spiritual, and relational aspects of your personal wellness. If you have been diagnosed with panic disorder, it can be helpful to attend to your overall self-care practices. These strategies include practicing your relaxation techniques, finding social support, getting enough rest, and taking care of your physical fitness needs.
Davis, M., Eshelman, E.R., & McKay, M. “The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook, 6th ed." 2008 Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Schiraldi, G. R. “The Self-Esteem Workbook:” 2001 Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
Seaward, B. L. “Managing Stress: Principles and Strategies for Health and Wellbeing, 7th Edition” 2011 Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
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