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Relaxation and breathing techniques


Relaxation is about activating the parasympathetic or relaxation system to help attain feelings of peace, release from anxiety, tension and fear. This is not always something that comes naturally to everyone and like anything in life, to become good at it you need to practice and learn techniques to help you.

Why is relaxation helpful?
When the body is stressed, we release a hormone called cortisol. Too much cortisol in our bloodstream over long periods can have a negative effect on our bodies such as poorer memory, increased blood pressure lowered immunity and exacerbates anxiety. 

Relaxation is a useful tool to help us manage stress more effectively and therefore reducing our cortisol levels. It also helps to release the tension we are holding in our muscles and bodies. Holding onto this tension can make us feel more tired as it takes more effort to be tense than relaxed, often causing uncomfortable feelings like headaches, backaches, and tight chest. 

There are many different techniques to help with relaxation including breathing exercises, medication and mindfulness. 

Some general guidelines to consider include:

  • Make time to relax where you won’t get disturbed in a quiet comfortable place
  • Make sure you’re not too hot/ cold/ hungry/ full or thirsty
  • Make time to practice regularly
  • Have a go, don’t worry if it’s right or wrong

Cautions/ contradictions to practicing relaxation

  • Do not stand up suddenly after practicing relaxation
  • Some forms of relaxation are not advised for anyone experiencing an actively psychotic episode
  • Some relaxation is not advised for anyone experiencing a traumatic event or are experiencing flashbacks
  • Some relaxation is not advisable if you have breathing difficulties. You should speak to your doctor before doing breathing techniques
  • You may feel panic because of a change in sensations
  • If in any doubt seek advice
Breathing techniques

While resting, we breath in oxygen, the body uses this oxygen and we breath out the same level of carbon dioxide. When exercising, the amount of oxygen we breath in increases. Our body uses this oxygen and we breath out the same increased level of carbon dioxide.

However, when we are anxious, our breathing rate increases. We breath in more oxygen but because we are not running around our bodies do not use it and we breath out lower levels of carbon dioxide.  This can cause symptoms such as dizziness, drowsiness, excessive fatigue, disorientation, confusion, muscle twitching and panic attacks. 

Therefore, having a good breathing technique stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, and promotes a state of calmness. Bringing an awareness to our breath means reducing our heart rate to normal, taking the focus away from the worries in our head and quieting the mind.

Whilst there are many different techniques out there, it is for you to find one that suits you. Here are some to try:

Quick breathing technique
While sitting on a chair, put your arms behind your back. Breath in and out naturally, this is opening your chest to breath better. You can also do this while standing around by putting your hands in your back jeans pockets. 

Belly breathing
To belly breath, sit comfortably, shoulders relaxed. Breath in through your nose and imagine your tummy blowing up like a balloon, as it fills with air. Then, while breathing out imagine the balloon going down. Benefits of belly breathing include:

  • Automatically slows the heart rate, helping you to relax and calm
  • The most efficient and relaxed way of getting enough air into your lungs
  • Can boost energy levels with just a few minutes daily
  • Increased awareness of the breath and it’s effects on the body
  • Emulates breathing during the regeneration process such as sleeping

Breathing exercises
Here you can watch a simple breathing exercise that can be completed anywhere. Remember the more you practice the easier it will become.