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7 Best Relaxation Techniques for Anxiety

The top seven ways to deal with stress (part 3 of 3).

This article is the final part of a three-part series. You can find part 1 here and part 2 here.

6. Listening to Relaxing Music

While the evidence seems to suggest that listening to music is no more effective than just taking time to sit in silence (Elliott, Polman and Taylor, 2014), that doesn’t mean that it isn’t effective. If you have trouble sitting silently and shutting down the constant distractions that your brain inspires, playing music can be a nice alternative. The word “relaxing” is up to you.

Some people would swear by smooth jazz or classical, but if you find heavy metal soothing somehow, go for it. This isn’t about choosing the magic music, it’s about giving yourself space to get out of your head and just let yourself calm down. As my wife tells me when I get agitated about something in the middle of the night, “You worrying about it all night isn’t going to solve it.” Easier said than done. Perhaps easier if you put some music on and just try to focus in and appreciate the sounds coming across your eardrums, and be grateful for the technology you have to let you hear it.

7. Autogenic Training

One strategy for reducing stress that combines many of the techniques that have already been discussed is autogenic training. If you are motivated to learn and practice, the ultimate goal of autogenic training is for the practitioner to be able to make the body and mind respond to self-cues. If you practice autogenic training enough, you will develop the skills to relax on your own, without any need for anyone else.

Until you get there, you can use a podcast and let the teacher guide you through the steps to relaxation. An autogenic training podcast will ask you to breathe deeply, focus in on your breathing and slow it down, move gradually up the body as you tighten and relax your muscles, and teach you how to tell your body things like, “My legs are very heavy,” and “My legs are very warm.” You will be told to find a quiet place, in a comfortable seating position, and to slowly tell yourself, “My heartbeat is calm,” and “My breathing is regular and relaxed.”

This may seem silly at first. “If I could just tell myself to relax, I would have done it in the first place!” But the fact that you didn’t is the answer to the mystery. The suggestions you make to yourself when you think these self-cues gently nudge you to create a match between the cues and what your body actually feels. In a recent study with medical students (who are thrust into high-stress situations every day), the regular practice of autogenic training and progressive muscle relaxation led to significant reductions in anxiety and burnout when compared to controls (Wild, Scholz, Ropohl, Bräuer, Paulsen & Burger, 2014).

You can just go to your iTunes or Google Play store and search for “guided autogenic training” to get started.

Take-Home Message

When we feel stress and anxiety, it’s like our brains have taken over. Much as we would like to stop the barrage of worst-case scenarios from haunting our consciousness, they keep rearing their ugly heads. The strategies that have been provided in this article have something in common – they all give you the chance to pay attention to more immediate sensations.

A great spiritual teacher, Krishnamurti (1970), once wrote that the things that we worry about are almost always things that haven’t happened yet. We worry that we won’t be able to pay our bills. We worry that our spouse will be unfaithful. We worry that our children will not be happy. These are all worries about things in the future. You’re worried that, if things like these happen, you won’t be able to handle them. The mind takes over, and all of sudden, you are living in a world where the worst has happened, unaware (for the time) that the world you are actually in is a different one than the one in your dreams. Take the time to sit and just notice your thoughts. Notice how your mind is not always your friend.

Krishnamurti advises us against trying to push the negative thoughts away. Instead, he suggests we observe those thoughts and notice that they are not true depictions of what is happening now. I would advise that you take an inventory of your life. Notice that, in the past, when you have encountered challenges, you have made it through them. If new challenges arise, you will make it through those, too.

In addition to this practice of observing your mind, you can use cyclic meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, elevator breathing, aerobic exercise, podcasts, massage, and autogenic training to focus your mind on the immediate here and now and get your mind off what’s worrying you. You can also trick your body into thinking it’s relaxed by mimicking what relaxed people do. As my students say, “Fake it ‘til you make it.”

References

Elliott, D., Polman, R., & Taylor, J. (2014). The effects of relaxing music for anxiety control on competitive sport anxiety. European Journal of Sport Science, 14(sup1), S296-S301.

Wild, K., Scholz, M., Ropohl, A., Bräuer, L., Paulsen, F., & Burger, P. H. (2014). Strategies against burnout and anxiety in medical education–implementation and evaluation of a new course on relaxation techniques (Relacs) for medical students. PloS one, 9(12).

Krishnamurti, J. (1970). Think on these things. D. Rajagopal (Ed.). New York: Harper & Row.

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