Although relaxation exercises may not permanently cure you of your anxiety they can help to relieve many of the horrible symptoms associated with anxiety. As with most exercises practice makes perfect so do not worry too much about not getting everything right the first time.
Breathing and muscle relaxation exercises help to induce your body’s relaxation response which is the opposite of your body’s stress response. It is the stress response which causes an excessive amount of stress hormones to be released into your bloodstream and it is these hormones that are responsible for your anxiety and its associated symptoms. Aerobic exercises help you to use up the stress hormones so that they don’t remain inside of you and cause you anxiety.
Deep breathing exercise
This is the easiest type of exercise to do. It does not require a lot of time and it can be done anywhere at any time without anyone having to notice. It is also the quickest way to stop a panic attack in its tracks.
If you can try to do this exercise during a scheduled time every day in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. You can do it sitting down in a comfortable chair or lying down either on a bed or on the floor.
Make yourself as comfortable as possible. This means that you should loosen all tight fitting clothing, remove hairbands or accessories which can be uncomfortable and take of your glasses or take out your contact lenses.
Your arms should rest flat on the armrests of the chair or rest slightly away from your body next to your sides if you are lying on a bed. Your palms should be facing upwards and your feet should be at least hip-width apart. Don’t cross your legs or ankles if you are sitting down.
Focus on your breathing as you breathe in and out slowly keeping a regular rhythm. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
Take a slow deep breath while imagining that you are filling up a bottle from the bottom to the top. Do not force your breath and breathe in as far as you can, ensuring that your lungs are completely filled with air.
Try counting from 1 to 5 with each inhale and exhale, but do not be concerned if you can’t do it at first.
Practice this for three to five minutes, two to three times a day or when you are feeling stressed.
Progressive muscle relaxation exercises
This exercise takes up to 20 minutes and should be done in a warm, quiet place where no one will disturb you. Playing some relaxing music, such as classical music can help you even further. Studies have shown that listening to classical music for 30 minutes is just as effective at calming you down as taking 10 mg of Valium.
Try not to stretch sore or painful muscles, rather work around them. Hold each stretch for a few seconds before relaxing and moving onto the next adjacent muscle group. Repeat the stretch and relax exercise in each muscle group a few times before moving onto the next group.
Start with the above mentioned breathing exercise. Keep your eyes closed for the duration of the exercise.
If you start with the muscles in your face, draw your eyebrows together like in a frown. Hold for a few seconds and then relax. Repeat a few times and move to the muscles in your neck.
Slowly lower your head towards your chest stretching the back of your neck muscles. Slowly lift your head up and repeat a few times.
Slowly pull your shoulders up towards your ears and then slowly release them down towards your feet. Repeat.
Take a slow deep breath, expanding your diaphragm. Then breathe out slowly. Repeat a few times.
Stretch your arms and feet away from your body slowly pulling up your toes and your wrists. Stretch out each finger and then relax your body again. Repeat a few times.
After you are done remain lying down with closed eyes and focus on feeling relaxed. Then stretch out your body and slowly get up.
Aerobic exercises help to relieve stress through the reabsorption of stress causing hormones. Added benefits are improved sleep and an increased self-esteem. Another advantage of aerobic exercise such as swimming, running or walking is that it has a meditative effect due to the repetition involved with it. So if you are not in the mood for some serious meditation a repetitive type of aerobic exercise will have the same positive effect. Just 5 to 10 minutes of such a repetitive task can be beneficial in lowering your anxiety levels.
It is unfortunately not a quick fix and the longer you keep up with it the better the end results.
The above mentioned exercises may not be able to cure your anxiety like cognitive behavioral therapy can, but they can help you to cope with the unpleasant side effects associated with anxiety while you are on your way to beating anxiety permanently.
“Relaxation tips to relieve stress.” NHS Choices. 2011. Nhs.uk. (November 26, 2012) http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/Pages/ways-relieve-stress.aspx