Relaxation refers to the state of body and mind that is free from tension, stress and anxiety. Relaxation is an important part of self-care, helping you look after your well-being when you’re feeling stressed or busy.
Everyone is different and will have preferred methods of relaxing in their day-to-day lives. Whilst there are typical activities associated with relaxation, such as taking a bath, listening to music, reading a book, or watching a film, these acts often only relax our bodies. True relaxation will also help to ease your mind, switching off from the external noises in your life.
For some, relaxation can be achieved through performing specific exercises and techniques. For others, relaxation therapies and complementary therapies such as hypnotherapy prove to be more effective.
On this page, we will explore a number of relaxation techniques and discover how relaxation therapies, such as hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis can help.
Free 10-minute guided hypnosis for relaxation
Listen to hypnotherapist Natasha Crowe in this guided 10-minute relaxation session.
Why should I relax?
Healthy living is a matter of balance. Relaxation can play a key part of the balancing process, alongside what we eat, how much physical activity we do, and how we handle stress.
We face constant demands, not only from work but also from our families and social lives - and this affects our stress levels on a major scale. Stress affects us all in different ways, and many of us don’t even realise how stressed we actually are; we often become accustomed to being tense, so we think of it as normal.
But, feeling stressed or tense for prolonged periods can have a negative effect on our overall well-being. Research studying the relationship between stress and health shows that stress not only affects our mood but can also lead to health implications. This includes digestive problems, bowel conditions and high blood pressure. It is also thought to lower our immunity and slow our body’s recovery from major traumas.
So while you may not think you’re overly stressed, it is important to watch for the signs of excessive levels of tension:
- tense muscles
- waking up tired
- difficulty sleeping
- grinding your teeth
- aches and pains
- persistent tiredness or exhaustion
- heart racing
- sense of rush, panic or lack of time
- growing number of minor ailments such as headaches or stomach upsets
- ‘stomach in knots’ sensation
- loss of appetite
- difficulty thinking straight or concentrating
Relaxation techniques are thought to be key to restoring or maintaining, a healthy body and mind. Some relaxation exercises are designed to help slow down your breathing and heart rate, which can help to lower blood pressure and muscle tension. Relaxation can also help you to gain control of your worries and can help you to learn other skills, such as mindfulness.
For some, relaxation techniques are not enough to reach a state of emotional and physical calm. Certain therapies are considered an effective alternative as they produce states of deep relaxation. It can help those who have ongoing issues with stress and anxiety.
Hypnotherapy for relaxation
Hypnotherapy is a recognised form of relaxation therapy. It can reduce ‘stress chemicals’ and bring the body back to balance. Regular sessions ease built-up pressure and tension, helping you to learn how to look after yourself better.
The hypnotic trance is the induction of a deeply relaxed state. The mind is guided away from the troubles of everyday life and into a place of tranquillity and peace. During this process, the hypnotherapist may offer therapeutic suggestions to encourage changes in attitude and behaviour or relief from stress-related symptoms. This relaxation therapy is comfortable, safe and considered to be a highly liberating experience. It’s beneficial for both the mind and body.
The key benefits thought to arise from this type of deep relaxation are:
- helping to restore and strengthen the immune system
- lowering of blood pressure
- stress relief and the lessening of chronic pain, tension headaches, back pain and migraines
- diminishing any emotional upsets and unlocking emotional blockages that can contribute to stress
- aiding concentration ability
- improving energy levels
- aiding sleep.
Hypnotherapy provides a confidential and comfortable setting in which your mind and body can be safely filtered of tension and stress, easing you into a relaxing state of mind.
Often, hypnotherapists will send patients away with post-hypnotic suggestions that allow them to induce self-hypnosis after sessions are completed.
Self-hypnosis is essentially an extension of hypnosis - and it can be one of the best relaxation exercises to help you keep on top of your stress levels. It can also act as a tool to help you cope with the problems of everyday living in the future. It provides a source of regular relaxation that is simple to carry out, with a range of positive effects on emotional and physical well-being.
Before you attempt it, you should let others know that you do not want to be disturbed.
12 steps to relaxation
- Try to clear your mind of anything that has been causing you to feel unbalanced or stressed.
- Find an object to focus on. This object should ideally be just above your eye line (possibly on the wall or ceiling).
- Focus on the object to fully release all other thoughts from your mind.
- Think about your eyelids slowly closing, becoming far too heavy to keep open. Breathe evenly and deeply as your eyes begin to close.
- Tell yourself that as you breathe out, you will feel more relaxed. Try to slow your breathing to become more and more relaxed after every breath.
- Visualise a sideways, or up and down movement of an object. Watch it sway in your mind’s eye.
- Slowly count down from ten and say ‘I am relaxing’ after each number.
- Believe that when you reach zero, you will enter your hypnotic state.
- When you reach a hypnotic state, focus on your positive messages. Repeat them in your thoughts, staying focused and relaxed.
- Clear your mind and relax once more before you leave the hypnotic state.
- Slowly (but increasing in speed) count up to 10. This reverses the process you used to get into the hypnotic state. After each number, you can repeat a positive statement such as ‘I will get a good night’s sleep tonight’.
- When you finish counting, you will return awake and refreshed.
As discussed before, there is no single method of relaxation that is best for everyone. Some people will benefit from therapies such as hypnotherapy, whilst others may prefer solo relaxation techniques, such as meditation or Progressive Muscle Relaxation.
Relaxation techniques tend to differ widely in practice, philosophy and methodology. The choice of practice should depend on your specific needs, preferences, fitness level and the way you respond to stress. You will know if you have chosen the right relaxation technique for stress relief, as it will fit in with your lifestyle, and will help your mind to focus and reduce everyday tension.
Here is a guide to some popular forms of relaxation techniques:
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Dr Edmund Jacobson developed this relaxation technique back in the early 1900s. Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a two-step process that involves tensing and then relaxing specific muscle groups. With regular practice, Progressive Muscle Relaxation is thought to provide an intimate familiarity with what tension – as well as relaxation – feels like in different parts of the body. This awareness is considered beneficial for spotting and fighting the first signs of muscular tension.
Deep breathing relaxation
Heavy and fast breathing is a symptom of the ‘flight or fight’ response that can lead to heightened anxiety levels. Deep breathing techniques can help to control this reaction. By concentrating on your breathing, the body can relax and get back into synchrony. For this reason, deep breathing is an important part of yoga and martial arts due to its relaxing effects.
Autogenic means self-regulation or self-generation. This technique involves the use of only your mind and motivation to tackle stress. The repetition of words or phrases in the mind is thought to help stimulate physical sensations. It also helps to slow breathing and heart rate.
There are a number of different types of meditation. Yet all practices involve techniques to encourage and develop concentration, emotional positivity and relief from stress. Meditation helps you to learn the patterns and habits of your mind. This can lead to the cultivation of new, more positive ways of being.
Transcendental meditation is considered the simplest type of meditation. It involves the repetition of a single word or phrase (mantra). This allows the mind to naturally and effortlessly transcend thinking, and to experience a state of restfully alert consciousness.
Mindfulness meditation is a research-based type of meditation that originated from Buddhism. It’s designed to develop the skill of focusing on our inner and outer experiences with acceptance, understanding and patience. This type of meditation involves concentrating on thoughts and sensations of the mind and body. It’s often taught in stress-reduction programmes.
Visualisation or guided imagery is a variation of traditional meditation that involves the use of visual sense, taste, touch, sound and smell to achieve the relaxation response. This relaxation technique requires you to imagine a scene in which you feel at peace.
Other common relaxation techniques include:
- tai chi
Remember, it's not healthy to stay stressed or tense for prolonged periods. Be kind to your body and your mind by embracing relaxation as a part of your daily self-care routine.