Cathy Citron-Bilovsky, Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage and
Family Therapist

Relaxation Techniques for Reducing Stress

Stress is an inevitable part of everyday life experience.  It cannot be avoided.  You can counteract the negative effects of stress by practicing relaxation techniques which can stimulate a relaxation response in your body.  This relaxation response is a mentally active process that relaxes your body and your mind.  Stress can wear your body down when it is constantly stimulated.  In order to bring your body back into balance, you can employ specific techniques which will create a more relaxed physical state and can raise feelings of happiness and tranquility.


The following are suggestions you can utilize to de-stress so you can reduce stress hormones, slow down your heart rate, decrease your blood pressure, deepen your breathing, relax the muscles throughout your body, and create a sense of calm.  You will discover that these de-stressing techniques will enhance your energy and focus, strengthen your immune system, reduce aches and pains, sharpen your ability to problem solve, and can ultimately optimize your determination and performance.


With daily practice, one can learn the fundamentals of these relaxation techniques.   Try to incorporate these habits into your day.  These techniques become automatic with practice.  Set aside time (10 to 20 minutes).  Sometimes it’s easier to accomplish this if you do this practice in the morning before you start your busy day.


To quiet your mind and increase your energy, meditation or progressive muscle relaxation can be helpful.  Deep breathing is another relaxation technique that is easy to learn, can be done anywhere, and is a remarkably speedy way to reduce your stress level.


How to Learn the Practice of Deep Breathing


Deep breathing is easy to learn.  Sometimes it is know as diaphragmatic breathing.  Taking deep breaths, filling the lungs and expanding the abdomen allows you to take in more oxygen.  When you increase your oxygen intake, you decrease tension, breathe more easily, and decrease your anxiety. Visualize your breath spreading into your lungs and throughout your body.  The sensation creates feelings of empowerment, strength and peace.


Get comfortable sitting with your back straight.  Place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest.  Breathe in through your nose to the count of five.  The hand on your stomach should rise and the hand on your chest should more very little.  Exhale through your mouth to the count of seven.  Push out as much air as possible and at the same time contract your abdominal muscles.  The hand that you have placed on your stomach should move in as you exhale.  The hand on your chest should only move slightly.  Count deliberately and slowly.  Repeat this process (in through nose, out through mouth).  If it’s easier to do this exercise lying down, you may do so.


Progressive Muscle Relaxation


This technique is a two-step process where you systematically tense and relax different muscle groups throughout the body.  As you practice this technique, you will become familiar with muscle tension that is associated with stress.  The more you are able to relax your body, the more stress will decrease.  This exercise may be combined with deep breathing to gain greater relief from stress.  Begin with your feet and work your way up to the top of your head.  Find a comfortable position, preferably lying down.  Begin with slow, deep abdominal breathing (as described above).  When you begin to feel relaxed, focus on your right foot.  Take time to focus on the way it feels.  Slowly tense the muscles in your right foot, either flex the foot or tense up the muscles in your foot by squeezing your toes together for the count of ten seconds.  Relax your foot.  Notice the tension floating away and how your foot feels as it becomes relaxed.  Remain in this tension free state for a few moments continuing to breath slowly and deeply.   Now, focus on your left foot and continue the process you just completed.    Proceed at a slow pace and continue to move up your body legs, abdomen, arms, hands, back, shoulders, neck and face) with the same sequence of muscle tension and relaxation.


Mindfulness Meditation for Stress Reduction


Mindfulness is the ability to be fully aware in the present moment without analyzing or judging the experience.   While practicing mindfulness, the focus is on the here- and-now rather than fretting about the future or dwelling on disturbing memories of the past.  Worrying interferes with your peace of mind.


To reduce stress, try these mindfulness meditation techniques:


Try a walking meditation• mindfulness can be part of a walking meditation where you are focused on the physical nature of each step you take.  Be aware of the sensation of your feet touching the ground, the pace of your breaths while you move and the feeling of wind or sun on your face.


Mindful eating• If you find yourself eating to mask emotions, gulping your food, or eating to excess, try eating mindfully.  Sit down to eat your snack or meal and focus your complete attention on the food in front of you.  Just eat slowly with no distractions (no television, books, or newspaper) taking time to fully enjoy the taste, texture and visual satisfaction of the meal and each bite.  Savor the flavors.  You may find that you eat less and are more satisfied.


Close examination of your body• Focus your attention on different parts of your body.  Begin with your feet and work your way to the top of your head.  Just pay attention to the way your body feels.


Guided Imagery for Stress Reduction


Guided imagery can be used as a stress reduction and relaxation technique.  It is done by incorporating a mental image which allows you to feel calm and release tension and anxiety.  It could be a favorite, relaxing vacation spot, a positive childhood memory or somewhere in nature.


Close your eyes•  Let go of your worries.  Visualize your calming image.  Use all of your senses to create a full picture.  Imagine the things you see, smell, taste, hear and feel in this calming, peaceful place.


Other Forms of Stress Reduction


Here are other suggestions for stress relief:


Yoga, tai chi, massage therapy, self-massage, professional massage therapy, napping, and exercise.



Cathy Citron-Bilovsky, Ph.D.
16944 Ventura Boulevard, Suite 7
Encino, California 91316

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