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Relaxation Techniques That Really Work

Everyone experiences stress and its effects. Short-term effects of stress include headaches, shallow breathing, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, and upset stomach. Long-term chronic stress can increase the risk for heart disease, back pain, depression, persistent muscle aches and pains, and a weakened immune system, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Chronic stress can affect your emotions and behavior by making you irritable, impatient, less enthusiastic about your job, and even depressed.

To keep stress at a minimum and reduce its effects on your life, you need to find and practice healthy ways to manage it, advises the American Academy of Family Physicians. Try the following techniques to see what works best for you.

Take a breath

Begin by sitting up straight. Breathe in so your rib cage expands, and then exhale slowly. Breathing in this way relaxes muscles, reducing tension and the likelihood of muscle and back pain.

You can focus on a word, a mantra, or even your breath by focusing on your nostrils, feeling the breath coming in and going out. What you're trying to do is put the focus on something other than your problems.

Relax slowly

Sit or lie down, if you can, and close your eyes. Starting at your head, tense your face by clenching your teeth and furrowing your brow. Hold the tension for five seconds, then release it.

Next, tense your shoulders by bringing them up to your ears. Hold for five seconds, then release. Tense your arm muscles and hold for five seconds, then release. Continue to tighten and release each group of muscles in your body until you reach your toes. Focus on the warmth and heaviness of your body as you relax. Breathe gently for a few moments, then open your eyes.

Visualize

Sit or lie down and close your eyes. For five to 10 minutes, imagine you're in a place you love, such as the beach, the mountains, or the house you grew up in. Breathe slowly and deeply as you imagine what you see, feel, hear, taste, and smell in your special place.

Be patient

Be patient with yourself and with the process. Practicing a technique that seems to work for you on an ongoing basis--not just when your life is out of control--is important. Doing so can give you a place of calm to return to when the going gets rough.