23 Relaxation Techniques and Relaxation Exercises
You Can Do at Home or Work

(c) 1996-2012 Carol A. James All Rights Reserved

When you are stressed-out, the first course of action is to reduce your tension and stress by relaxing. Otherwise, you'll say and do things you later regret. Or, at the very least, you wont operate at peak performance.

Before dealing directly with the source of an undesirable or stressful situation, you can relax by first get yourself into a more peaceful, balance and resourceful state of mind. Then you will be able to see your situation more objectively and work on a more permanent solution.

Everyone has a favorite method for easing the pressures of tension or stress. Sometimes the methods we use are productive meditating, exercising, deep breathing, journaling, listening to music. But sometimes we choose methods that cause more problems in the long run for example, drinking alcohol to excess, smoking, ingesting drugs or overeating. Its best to find effective stress-reduction methods that have beneficial and positive long-term health benefits. Here are 23 techniques to try out. Remember that stress itself is not nearly as important as how you react to it.

  1. Rearrange or redecorate your environment
  2. Take a break
  3. Work it off physically
  4. Learn time management techniques
  5. Delegate responsibilities
  6. Listen to your body
  7. Get plenty of sleep
  8. Laugh it off
  9. Talk it over
  10. Play it off
  11. Use affirmations
  12. Learn to say no
  13. Count your blessings
  14. Practice deep breathing
  15. Eat a Well Balanced, Nutritious Diet
  16. Participate in stress reduction therapy
  17. Get a massage
  18. Keep an appreciation journal
  19. Learn to relax
  20. Declare yourself king or queen for the day
  21. Compare your situation to another
  22. Take a private retreat
  23. Declare a gripe-day

Rearrange or Redecorate Your Environment

Color, lighting and sound are elements that engage and influence your senses. These elements can be soothing, pleasing and comforting, or they can be jarring, painful or even unhealthy. Here are some suggestions for adjusting your environment to affect greater comfort and ease.


Inadequate, artificial indoor lighting in the workplace or schoolroom frequently causes stress that can manifest in many ways, from emotional agitation and fuzzy thinking to physical discomfort and even disease. Conventional fluorescent lamps emit light that is deficient in many of the wavelengths of natural sunlight. Numerous studies have shown the benefits of replacing these lamps with full-spectrum fluorescent, which more closely resembles sunlight. Under full-spectrum lights, workplace health statistics improve, school performance gets better, and dental caries in school children decrease. For some people, a deficiency of natural light may even cause a form of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Here are some web sites offering information on light therapy:


Choose the right music and you're soothed; choose the wrong music and you're a nervous wreck. A ticking clock at night may be soothing to some people but distracting to others. The sound of a baby crying tends to test most people's nerves. Because the sounds that surround us have the power to ease or increase our stress, we need to become aware of how noise affects us and what we can do about it.

      The following is an excerpt from an article (Copyright 1995 ARTA Software Group and David P. Teller) on Sound Therapy.

        "Sound Therapy has probably been performed intuitively as a response to human interactions even before the ability to consciously make and interpret sound was realized. Using computer analysis, the sounds of spontaneous moaning, groaning, yawning, screaming, sighing, laughing and 'fillers' sounds, such as "mm" and "ah" have been found to contain the stressed frequencies that are required to elicit improvement. The principles of Sound Therapy originate with the idea that the brain perceives and generates impulse patterns that can be measured as brain wave frequencies; which in turn are delivered to the body by way of nerve pathways. The theory incorporates the assumption that these frequency impulses serve as directives that sustain structural integrity and emotional equilibrium. When these patterns are disrupted the body seeks to reveal the imbalance by manifesting symptoms that are interpreted as disease and stress.

        "Sound Therapy using specific and controlled frequencies plus innovative patterns of delivery can and will continue to have a significant impact on disease, stress and trauma."

       Additional information on sound therapy can be found at:

      • Methods of using "sound therapy" to improve the quality of life and communication skills. Sound Therapy International
      • Photos onix makes hi-tech light and sound relaxation devices using the new science of neurotechnology.


      Color awareness is usually more prevalent than awareness of sound and breathing. Most people are more aware of the aesthetic aspects of color rather than the emotional and physiological affect color has on us. Here are a few resources for understanding the impact of color on our lives and the different vibrations inherent in different colors:

Feng Shui

Use of Feng Shui can be one way to adjust your environment to be more stress free. Feng Shui is the ancient art of creating harmony and success through applying the natural principles of how energy moves through nature. The energies present in any physical location can have a profound influence on every area of our lives. If we can understand what these influences are, how they are created and operate, we can use this information to our benefit. Feng Shui not only "diagnoses" the nature of a place, but tells us how to manipulate the influences in practical ways.

A Feng Shui Consultant is one who has studied these principles and can determine what influences are present within our home or business location, and how they are affecting our health, wealth and personal relationships. If the influences are not helpful, physical "cures" are recommended to increase the beneficial energies and neutralize injurious ones. It is also often possible to make a good situation even better.

Physics tells us that any physical object has an electromagnetic field in and around it. The exact properties of the field vary depending upon the object. This field interacts with and has influence on the fields of other physical things nearby. This is the situation with buildings and people. The homes and offices we live and function in interact with us -- since we also have energetic fields in and around us -- and constantly exert their influences. Because we spend large amounts of time in these places, the influences become significant. Older civilizations, though they lacked the tools of modern science, were very aware of these influences and how to make the best use of the information. (The above text on Feng Shui is copyright by Holland Franklin and was used with permission from her.

Take a Break

No matter how difficult the situation may appear to be, a change of pace can help you open up new ways of looking at the problem. Stop what you're doing and find something else to do. Switch channels. Take a breather. Take a nap. Focus your mind on anything but the stress. For example, if you're working on a stressful task, find another task to work on.

When I'm struggling with a task (say, my writing), it usually indicates that my perception of the situation impedes my flow. When I step back or change tasks, my shift in focus often allows me to see how I was blocking myself. Don't worry about not getting the task done; just switch to another one. Once you regain the Flow Zone state, you'll get twice the work done in half the time.

Work It Off Physically

When you're feeling sad, angry, hurt or upset, physical activity can help relax both your mind and your body. Use physical activities like walking, hiking, stretching, jogging, running, skating or riding a bicycle to release the pressure. Even a five- or ten-minute movement break can go a long way toward helping your body manage the symptoms of stress.

Learn Time Management Techniques

Like many people, you may get stressed out when you feel like you don't have enough time to accomplish what you need to accomplish in a given day. But you can "make" more time for yourself by managing your time better. Time management means different things to different people. For some, it may be as simple as jotting down a "to do" list. For others, it involves using daily planners and organizers to schedule their day. Sometimes you just need to learn how to handle interruptions that tend to devour your time.

Delegate Responsibilities

Are you a perfectionist who doesn't believe that anyone else could possibly complete a task as well as you do? People with perfectionist tendencies have trouble delegating work, usually because they subscribe to the old adage "If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself." Perhaps you're afraid that you'll lose control of the situation if you let someone else help you. To be able to delegate responsibility, you need to accept that "my way" of doing things is not the only effective one. Besides being a great way to reduce stress, delegating responsibility will help you build more trusting relationships.

Listen to Your Body

When you're tense, your body lets you know. Your heart beats faster, your muscles tighten, your breathing becomes shallow, and you experience any of a number of other familiar symptoms, such as a headache or queasy stomach. Start noticing your body's signs of stress and slow down or take a break when your body is signaling you. You can also take steps to build your physical reserves, such as getting plenty of sleep and eating nutritious, balanced meals.

Get Plenty of Sleep

Sleep improves your ability to handle stressful situations. Provide an environment that allows you to get enough peaceful sleep each night. If there is a problem that interferes with your sleep, find a way to eliminate it.

For example, if your mates snoring disturbs you, either sleep in another room, wear ear plugs or find ways to eliminate or reduce the problem. Once, when I was visiting a friend, I was startled awake by the sound of a buzz saw. As I lay there wondering who would be cutting down trees at 3:00 a.m., I realized that I was hearing the sound of my friend's husband snoring at the other end of the house! My friend was so disturbed by the noise that she slept in a separate bedroom and wore ear plugs. Finally her husband went to a sleep clinic where he found a solution to the problem, and they both slept happily ever after in the same room.

Laugh It Off

Laughter is one of the healthiest antidotes to stress. Researchers have discovered that exposure to humor causes a measurable decrease in stress hormones, including epinephrine and dopamine, and an increase in immune system activity. When we laugh, even smile, blood flow to the brain increases and endorphins (painkilling hormones that give us a sense of well-being) are released.

There are abundant sources of humorous material - comedy programs on television, funny movies and videos, comedy clubs, humorous or satirical books, cartoons like Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side, humor-focused discussion groups and newsletters, or a funny friend. A good sense of humor can help us release tension, dispel worry, relax and let go.

Talk It Over

When stress builds up, you can reduce the pressure by talking with someone who listens to you with compassion and understanding. Look for friends you can trust who won't be judgmental and will help you to find your own solutions, instead of telling you what to do. Seek the company of those who are optimistic and have high self-esteem. They tend to have low stress levels and contribute to lower stress levels in those around them.

Play It Off

The next time you're feeling anxious or stressed out, take a break and do something childish, like coloring with crayons, drawing a picture, reading a children's book, watching a cartoon or G-rated movie, playing with your children's toys or games (with or without your children), or playing with building blocks or an erector set.

Use Affirmations

Find attitude-enhancing phrases that resonate with you and repeat them regularly. Write little notes to yourself that say, "Smile more today," "Don't take things too seriously," "Don't sweat the small stuff," or anything else that reinforces a relaxed state of mind. Post these notes where you're likely to see them often (computer monitor, car visor, bathroom mirror, refrigerator door, etc.). Or perhaps you and a spouse, mate, family member, friend or co-worker can write little notes to each other and leave them in places where they're sure to be found. This practice can help remind you to relax.

Learn To Say NO

Many people have been raised to believe that there is nothing more noble than giving up self for the sake of others. They will frequently deny their own desires in order to please others, believing that the needs of others must come first. Whenever they're asked to do something, they answer yes without considering the consequences to themselves.

Taking on too many responsibilities triggers stress. If you cant say no, you often end up not only with your own problems and responsibilities to attend to, but everyone else's too! Become more aware of your limits and learn when you have reached them. Practice saying no without feeling guilty. Remember, your first responsibility is to your own health and well-being. After all, if you're not healthy, you can be of little use to others.

Count Your Blessings

The more you focus on life's problems, the more stressed out you feel. Likewise, the more you dwell on what you appreciate and love, the better you feel. Start asking yourself what is "right" with your life, reviewing in your mind or making a list of everything for which you feel grateful or appreciative (see Keep an Appreciation Journal later in this article). You may discover that you cant be in a stressed out state and an appreciative state at the same time. For this reason, appreciation can be one of the most powerful tools for poking a hole in the stress balloon and feeling better immediately.

Practice Deep Breathing

Breathing! Can you imagine that? It's one of the simplest yet most effective ways to manage stress's effects on your body. When you're stressed, you have a tendency to breathe more shallowly and rapidly, depriving your body of vital oxygen; some people even hold their breath under stress. To promote a relaxation response, you need to reverse this pattern by breathing slowly and deeply.

When I become swelled up with emotion, I often catch myself holding my breath. By taking a few deep breaths, I can instantly release the pressure and shift my attention from the emotion to the breath. There are many books on the market that provide instruction in a variety of breathing techniques.

Eat a Well-balanced, Nutritious Diet

When I get stressed out, I tend to overdose on certain foods, particularly sweets. Unfortunately, sugary foods (and that includes white processed foods like pasta, rice and bread) quickly increase blood sugar levels in my blood stream, and my energy drops as too much insulin is dispatched into my blood to balance the sugar rush. That drop in energy leads to irritability, which impairs my ability to stay centered and deal effectively with stressful situations.

Eating the "right" foods is essential to protect your body against air, water and food pollution. Balanced Nutrition means eating a variety of foods that support physical health. For instance, eating LOW fat is not the same as eating NO fat. Your body needs fats to function optimally, but eating the "right" fats is essential. To further research this topic, see our Health Information section.

Participate in a Stress Reduction Therapy

There are dozens of therapies that can be useful for reducing or temporarily eliminating stress-related symptoms. These therapeutic modalities include:

  • Applied and behavioral kinesiology
  • Bio-sonic resonance therapy
  • Bioenergetic harmonization therapy
  • Herbal and homeopathic therapies
  • Structural integration therapy
  • Myofascial therapy
  • Movement (aikido, brain gym, chi gung, tai chi, yoga, etc.)
  • Metabolic and reflex analysis
  • Bodywork (rolfing, Swedish, ayurvedic, Oriental, sports massage, reflexology, Feldenkrais, myopractic, Alexander, etc.)
  • TMJ occlusion balancing
  • Morphogenetic field balancing
  • Chromatology
  • Advanced balancing techniques
  • Energy-based modalities (acupuncture, jin shin, shiatsu, reiki, meridian massage, polarity, craniosacral, flower essence therapy, essential oils and aromatherapy, orthobionomy, biomagnetic therapy, etc.)

Get a Massage

According to the Physician's Guide to Therapeutic Massage, massage can help increase blood circulation, lower blood pressure, reduce fatigue, increase restful sleep, enhance a sense of well-being, and elevate mood. As the list in the previous section suggests, there are a variety of massage techniques to choose from. You can even get a quick foot, neck, shoulder or back massage, which can work wonders in relieving stress.

Keep an Appreciation Journal

Keep a daily journal or list of things you appreciate, then refer back to it when you're feeling stressed to remind you that not everything in life is difficult or stressful. Here are a few examples of items to add to your appreciation journal:

  • The wonders you felt as you learned a new idea or skill.
  • The excitement of connecting through laughter or words with a friend or teacher.
  • Acknowledgement you received from a boss, friend or mentor.
  • The feeling of joy after lending a helping hand.
  • Something you did for someone else that brought the person pleasure or joy.
  • Something someone did for you that caused your heart to swell up with love.
  • Your accomplishments in life.
  • Your own valued qualities and talents.
  • Being asked to join a club or group.
  • Hearing the laughter of a child.
  • Helping someone to learn something new.

Learn to Relax

You can reduce the negative affects of stress by learning how to relax your body and mind. Relaxation techniques take the pressure off your body by decreasing metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate and muscle tension. Other benefits include:

  • Reduced, fatigue, neck and back pain, join pain, migraine headaches
  • Improved sleep patterns.
  • Heightened sensory perception and concentration.
  • Decreased tension, anxiety, depression, anger or hostility.
  • Release from negative thoughts (compulsive worrying, doubts, fears, etc.).
  • Enhanced performance, efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Improved immune function, which reduces susceptibility to infectious disease.

The body can be relaxed in a number of ways: Some people relax through self-hypnosis, meditation, prayer, visualization or various breathing, movement or energy techniques. Others use a combination of a number of these methods. The approach is not as important as how you feel as you do it. There is no one right way for everybody; what works for one person may not necessarily work for you. So experiment. If you feel more relaxed, centered, balanced and peaceful, then you've chosen a method that works for you.

A simple and effect way to relax the body is a tense-relax method, which works as follows:

  • Give yourself permission to take time for yourself.
  • Turn off the telephone, close the door and create a private space free of interruptions.
  • Select a comfortable position for your body.
  • Take a few deep breaths, breathing in and out slowly and concentrating only on your breath.
  • Inhale and tighten the muscles of your right leg, foot and toes, holding the muscles taut for a few seconds.
  • Exhale as you relax the muscles.
  • Repeat step 5 and 6 for each muscle group:
    • Left leg, foot and toes.
    • Hips, and buttocks and abdomen.
    • Chest, back and shoulders.
    • Right arm, hand and fingers.
    • Left arm, hand and fingers.
    • Neck and jaw.
    • Tongue.
    • Face and scalp.

Declare Yourself King or Queen for the Day

Take a day (or half a day) and put your needs first for a change. Many of us tend to put others needs above our own, leaving little time for what we need and want. How about taking a "self-day" off from work or hiring a babysitter to look after your kids while you look after yourself? It's not selfish or irresponsible. After all, how can you take care of anyone else effectively when your own batteries are running out of juice? Isn't it time you made some time for you? You might be surprised at all the extra energy you have when you return.

Compare Your Situation to Another

When you think of people who are having a harder time than you are, you may be prompted to count your blessings. As the old story goes, there was a man who was depressed because he had no shoes, until he met a man who had no feet.

Problems are relative. No matter how bad you think you have it, there is always someone worse off than you. For instance, if you find yourself becoming impatient in line at the grocery store, remember that people in Russia wait in line all day just for essential items like soap or toilet paper.

Take a Private Retreat

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to take a private retreat every once in a while. Take a whole weekend to be by yourself and to take stock of your life. Ask yourself some important questions about the direction of your life. Are you living in alignment with your highest values? Are you giving enough time and attention to the things that matter to you most?

If not, then why not? Are you trying to be all things to all people? How can you simplify your life? What activities or habits are counterproductive to your happiness? What do you want? What kinds of relationships do you want to create?

You can use this retreat as an opportunity to get clear on your priorities and to arrange your life to support them. You may find that you return from your retreat feeling refreshed and inspired, with a renewed sense of purpose and direction, which can help alleviate the pressure in your stress balloon.

Declare a "Gripe Day"

Sometimes, try as you might, you just cant shake those yucky stressed-out feelings, and the only way to get rid of them is to "vomit" them up. When all else fails, you might want to declare a "gripe day" and make a game of it. Allow yourself to complain all you want, ad nauseam. Complain about every little thing you can find fault with. Complain until you find your complaining ridiculous and can laugh at yourself. See if you can get to the other side of it. Sometimes it helps to ask a good friend to play this game with you. Or you can pour out your complaining in writing. Write yourself one whopper of a sob story. Write until you feel all written out. Then tear up the paper and throw it away, or act out a little ritual in which you burn the paper and release all your problems.

Explore these different stress releasing techniques until you find the ones that are right for you. In the process, you may learn more about the relationship between your thoughts, your emotions, your physical body and your overall well-being. This understanding will help you maintain your well-being in the face of stressful circumstances.

Pause & Ponder

Can you think of activities that make you feel good instantly? Most people have only a few, and some of the old favorites are unhealthy, such as bingeing on junk food, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and taking drugs. If these are your only options, you may want to expand your repertoire.

List ten activities right now that bring you instant tension release. If you can't think of ten, take out a sheet of paper and brainstorm all the things you could do to make yourself feel better. Do you have a special hobby you love? Does a particular subject enthrall you? What about a friend you love to talk to? List as many items as you can, and keep the list handy so you can refer to it for instant relief when you're stressed or tense.

Remember, though, that these are only temporary solutions. As long as you have not dealt with the real cause of your undesirable emotions your perceptions you will still generate the same thoughts, beliefs and perspectives that caused your stressful feelings, and the feelings will eventually return. Of course, you will be more effective in transforming your perceptions when you're in a relaxed and resourceful frame of mind, so these quick-relief techniques can be invaluable.

Empowering Highlights from This Article

Here are some empowering ideas from Step 2: Pivot to a More Resourceful State of Mind:

  • When you slip out of the Flow Zone state, do whatever is necessary to feel better immediately.
  • Pivoting to a more resourceful state of mind as soon as possible is important for a number of reasons:
    • Taking action from a place of stress is likely to produce more stressful effects.
    • You cant solve a problem from the same frame of mind you were in when you created it.
    • When you are in a resourceful frame of mind, you can see your situation more objectively and from a more positive and empowering perspective.
    • From a relaxed and balanced state of mind, you can more effectively explore and transform the perspectives that are causing your problems.
  • Keep a list of personal activities that make you feel good instantly so you can refer to it in moments of stress.

These ideas are designed to help you neutralize your stress so that you can be in a more resourceful state of mind when you assess how your thinking contributes to your ineffectiveness.

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