Relaxation Techniques - How to Relax

See also: Mindfulness

Learning how to relax, as a way to reduce stress and anxiety and to promote good sleep, is a key life skill. Relaxation techniques and are often overlooked in today’s busy, demanding and hectic society.

People often feel like they don’t have the time to relax.  As their stress levels increase, productivity drops and eventually health can deteriorate. By learning, applying and finding the time to practise some simple relaxation techniques you can get more done and improve your quality of life.

Being content with life and reducing stress has many advantages, it makes us: feel well, work well, feel more energetic, sleep better, deal with situations calmly and enjoy better relationships with other people.

Learning how to relax and finding the time to relax could be the most important part of your daily routine.

Balancing Stress and Relaxation

Stress and relaxation are at different ends of the spectrum – they are opposites.  Both stress and relaxation are essential in order for us to enjoy a full and productive life.  Often, however, people do not balance their stress and relaxation adequately. 

It is important to recognise the difference between good stress and bad stress, life-changing events like getting married, becoming a parent, moving house, starting a new job or starting school can all be stressful events; but these are ultimately good for you – the stress is usually short-lived.  Bad and more dangerous stress is long-term background stress which can be caused by any number of factors including: frustration, overwork, failure or perceived failure as well as more specific life circumstances and illnesses.

Being too relaxed and laid back, unconcerned about the stresses of life, is also not a desirable state for most people.  In such cases people miss out on important emotions and feelings that are needed to keep our minds healthy and alert.  Such feelings may include: pride in a job well done, success, exhilaration and excitement.

The key then is to balance good stress, bad stress and relaxation in such a way that we optimise our life experiences, remain healthy, achieve more and reach our potential.  In order to do this we need to listen to what our bodies and minds are telling us and learn how and when to relax.

  • See our page: Emotional Intelligence for more information about how you can learn to listen to your emotions and the emotions of others.
  • See our page: What is Stress? For more information about the symptoms and triggers of stress.

Learn to Relax, Now

There are many different relaxation techniques to suit different personalities and lifestyles, finding out what works for you or in certain situations is important. 

A natural response to learning a new skill, like relaxing, is to put it off until another day – once the particular crisis is over.

This is not usually helpful, once the current crisis is over you are less motivated to learn how to relax until the next crisis comes along.  There is no time like the present, make time to learn how you can relax, today.

Tips to Help You Relax

The following list is a generic quick guide to some powerful and simple things you can do to help reduce stress and tension right now.  Learn to find what works for you:

  • Don’t Worry, Be Happy
    Try not to worry so much.  Although this is very often easier said than done, sometimes it is possible to distract your mind from unnecessary worry by taking part in some other engaging activity to keep your mind busy.  Furthermore, the simple act of smiling can help lift your mood, release tension and ease difficult situations.  Do something that will make you laugh, talk to a funny friend, watch a comedy or read an amusing story.  You may not feel totally happy but by smiling and laughing you will naturally release tensions and feel more relaxed.  Laughing is a powerful stress-reliever see our page: Laughter Therapy for more.
  • Have Achievable and Realistic Expectations of Yourself
    Everybody has strengths and weaknesses, be aware of yours.  Learn to utilise your strengths and accept your weaknesses, don’t set yourself unrealistic goals.  See our page: Self-Motivation for more on personal goal setting.
  • Don’t live in the Past
    Learning from past mistakes is important.  Holding onto past mistakes and letting them dominate the present is stressful.  Live life in the present, don’t dwell on the past.
  • Learn to Say ‘No’
    Don’t let people push you to exhaustion, you are no good to anybody when you are over-stretched and you are likely to become resentful.  Learn to be assertive and say ‘no’ when you feel you do not have the capacity to do something as well as you would like.  See our pages on Assertiveness for more.
  • Exercise your Body
    It is a well-known fact that exercise, in whatever form, is useful for stress relief and for aiding relaxation.  Go for a walk or swim, run up and down the stairs, put some music on and dance, punch the air around you – find some form of appropriate exercise. See our page The Importance of Exercise for more information.
  • Exercise your Mind
    Stress can be caused by boredom or under-stimulation of your mind.   Learn a new skill, take up a new hobby, join a local group or society, play chess – find something to do that stimulates your mind. Find out more on our page Lifelong Learning.

Want more?
See our page: Dealing with Stress for more stress-busting tips.

Basic Relaxation Technique - Progressive Relaxation

Most of the time our minds are focused on external influences – the things that are going on around us and in our lives.  The fundamental principle of relaxation is to instead focus our attentions back to ourselves – this enables us to become more aware of our inner tensions and work on relieving them. 

Whatever the relaxation technique is that works best for you, remember to focus on yourself and try to lock out external pressures whilst you relax - this is the basic principle of mindfulness.

Learn to Relax

This powerful relaxation technique requires that you lay down somewhere comfortable and firm, like a rug or mat on the floor or a firm bed.  Choose a warm - but not hot - dark room if possible. This technique involves progressively contracting and relaxing the main muscle groups around the body that store tension.  If at any point during this technique you feel pain or cramp then stop. 

This technique is widely practiced but may take some time to master.

Step One:

Make yourself comfortable, wear loose clothes and ensure that you will be warm enough.  Lie down on a firm surface and relax your muscles.  Check that you are really comfortable before moving on, if not use some pillows or cushions and adjust your position.

Step Two:

Relax and try to let your mind go blank, breathe slowly, deeply and comfortably.  Let your arms rest by your side, relax your knees and legs, and allow your feet to fall outwards.  Let your shoulders sink into the ground and feel the weight of your body.  Unclench your teeth, close your eyes and relax your face and neck.

Step Three:

Start the exercise.  Do not rush, take your time and concentrate on relaxing.  Work around the body one main muscle area at a time, whilst doing this breathe deeply, calmly and evenly:

  • Clench the muscles tightly and hold for a few seconds
  • Relax the muscles completely
  • Repeat steps 1 and 2
  • Feel a warming and numbing of the area worked

Follow the steps above for:

  • Left Foot – curl your toes and clench your foot
  • Left Calf
  • Left Thigh
  • Right Foot
  • Right Calf
  • Right Thigh
  • Buttocks – clench tightly
  • Stomach
  • Left Hand – make a tight fist
  • Left Arm
  • Right Hand
  • Right Arm
  • Shoulders – hunch up towards the ceiling
  • Face – yawn, pout and frown to clench the various muscles in your face

Step Four

Stay laying down and rest and relax for 10 or 15 minutes after you have finished this exercise – when you do get up, do so slowly gently shaking your legs and arms.


You can try the above technique in various other positions if necessary.  For example you can relax back into a chair and follow the same processes as above.  The success of this technique is based on quiet time, comfort and the ability to be able to freely clench and relax your muscles.

For a quicker alternative you can also try clenching your whole body whilst standing.  This may be more convenient at work or in other, more public, places.  Although the results are not quite as satisfying as the main method it can help relieve tension.  To do this:

  • Stand up straight and tall and let your arms hang naturally
  • Breathe in slowly through your nose whilst tensing all your bodies muscles
  • Hunch your shoulders, make tight fists with your hands, tense your stomach and clench your buttocks, push yourself up onto tiptoe
  • Hold and count slowly to five
  • Slowly breathe out through your nose while relaxing and return to your original standing position
  • Repeat the above 3 to 5 times or as time and circumstances allow.

The Skills You Need Guide to Stress and Stress Management

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The SkillsYouNeed Guide to Stress and Stress Management

Understand and Manage Stress in Your Life

Learn more about the nature of stress and how you can effectively cope with stress at work, at home and in life generally. The Skills You Need Guide to Stress and Stress Management eBook covers all you need to know to help you through those stressful times and become more resilient.

In Summary

For many people, controlled and conscious relaxation is not part of their routine.  It is important to learn how to relax and take time to relax throughout your life.  Conscious relaxation can help to relieve stress and anxiety and also boost your energy - making you more creative and more productive.

For more specific relaxation techniques that you may be interested in trying see our further pages on:

  • Mindfulness - Focusing on the present through meditation.
  • Aromatherapy - The therapeutic use of essential oils and their scents.
  • Self-Hypnosis - Relax your mind to induce a gentle, relaxing trance.
  • Laughter Therapy – How laughter and laughter yoga can help you to relax and relieve stress.
  • Music Therapy - The power of music, how listening to music can help you relax.