When life gets stressful, it is all too easy to turn to unhealthy coping strategies, instead of relaxation techniques that do not involve food, alcohol or mindless zoning out in front of the television. But even though it seems easier and more rewarding to hit the couch after a long day, it can be good to treat yourself to something that truly relaxes from within.
We don’t all have time to spend on long, indulgent holidays, massages or weekends away at luxury spas or retreats. As lovely as that would be, it is possible to create your own retreat without spending much at all.
Simple Yet Effective Relaxation Techniques
These stress busting, zen boosting tricks may not appeal to everyone, but they always help me when I need to unwind and relax. Here are some simple relaxation techniques to add to your self-care regime.
1) Breathing Exercises
There are a few breathing exercises that I do every night. The anxiety relief 4-7-8 breath is one of the most effective exercises. It has an instant calming effect, and is very easy to do. Breathe in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 7 and breathe out for a count of 8. Repeat a few times whenever you need a boost. Another breathing technique for relaxation is circular breathing. This one is simple, too – inhale, hold, exhale and hold for an equal count, for however long is comfortable for you (try 5 counts and increase as it gets easier). Brett Larkin has a fantastic 15 minute meditation for anxiety and nervous energy video that uses this breath – I highly recommend giving it a watch.
Do a few rounds of both these exercises, and then, once you feel your body begin to relax, even out your breathing and settle in for some long, regular breaths. It is also important to get into the habit of breathing from your belly instead of your chest – this takes some getting used to, but you will feel the difference.
2) Relaxing Music
Another nightly practice that has really helped me unwind is listening to calming music, preferably with earphones so that I can tune out everything else. Depending on your musical preferences, relaxing music might be classical, or it might be new age. YouTube is a fantastic source of all types of amazing music for meditation and relaxation. From instrumental ocean sounds to bird noises and running water, or deep house and ambient, smooth jazz, piano music, guitar music and anything else you can think of, finding something that resonates with your tired brain is not too hard.
Some channels that I love include YellowBrickCinema, Chillout King Ibiza and Meditation Relax Music. It helps to create a nice ambience by dimming the lights, getting super comfortable in bed and lighting some incense or an essential oil burner. Once you are settled, with your soothing music on, you can try some of those breathing techniques. Do this right before bed so that you can head off to sleep soon afterwards.
3) Yin or Restorative Yoga
While yin yoga and restorative yoga are similar, they are a little bit different. Yin yoga is deeply relaxing, and can be restorative. Poses are typically held longer than they are in regular yoga – often up to 5 minutes. Restorative practice is all about gentle, healing yoga. Poses are often supported, with props and cushions.
After a hectic day, I sometimes do not feel up to a vinyasa yoga practice. Sometimes, I have a headache. Other times, I am simply feeling tired and not in the mood for major movement or effort. Both of these relaxing yoga styles are perfect for those sort of days. Anita Goa has a truly amazing restorative yoga for self care and relaxation video that has really helped on days when I need a lift. Lesley Fightmaster has a lovely deep stretch yin yoga video that is equally comforting.
4) Journaling and Adult Colouring (or both!)
The act of colouring is soothing in itself, while writing things down into a hard copy journal is also surprisingly good for stress relief. The bullet journal ‘trend’ is all about making to do lists and planning, but I prefer keeping my journal focused on positivity, gratitude, affirmations and art instead of to-dos. I have a collection of smaller sized mandalas and other colouring pages that I add to each journal page, so that I can unplug a bit after putting some happy thoughts onto paper.
Colouring is not always the best route for unleashing creativity. Sometimes, it can be more rewarding to draw, paint or play around with lettering as well. This is why I love the idea of art journals – you can get creative without staying in the proverbial lines, but you can also add in some colouring pages as well. This can be done before your bedtime meditation or first thing in the morning to start the day on a good note.
5) Mindfulness Activities
It may be a buzz word these days, but in essence, the concept of mindfulness is not new. All it really means is being present. You don’t have to sit for hours and clear your mind, or block out any emotions or thoughts that pass or even make any major effort at all. Instead, you are simply gently bringing your thoughts back to the present so that you can truly enjoy all of the magical moments we tend to rush through each day.
Walking is a great way to be present. Get out into the fresh air, feel the sun or the wind or the rain, listen to the sounds around you, stop to notice birds, flowers and other sights, enjoy the feeling of being outside and away from your desk/stress/anxiety. Sitting outside for a while can also have the same effect. Even if you don’t have a garden and only have a balcony, you can train yourself to feel calm when you take a break and step outside of your mental chaos. It takes practice, but it really does get easier in time. Those mental breaks are essential for relaxation. If you make it a habit, you will start to really feel the difference!
Let’s face it… there are days when lying on the couch watching series is all you feel up to doing. But the next time you need to take a deeper chill, try one or more of these relaxation techniques as well. You will be glad you did!
How do you like to relax after a heavy day? Let me know in the comments below and share your top stress busting tips!