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Deborah Wiig
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How to relax when you're all wound up

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How do we handle stress? When our moods loom large in our lives, we may react with anger, defensiveness, irritability, depression and anxiety. And, when we're tense and anxious, we find it hard to concentrate or sleep.

Lifestyle or emotional stressors can trigger our "fight or flight" response, resulting in an acceleration of our pulse rate, respiration and blood circulation, and an increase in muscle tension, resulting in physical discomfort and health problems.

Learn to gain more control over your anxiety, anger and depression with these relaxation techniques.

  • Listen to calming music. Slow, quiet classical music, or recordings of nature sounds can relax our minds and bodies. Keep recordings in your car as well as at home.
  • Practice diaphragmatic breathing: Start while lying on your back. Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Let your belly rise easily when inhaling and fall when exhaling. Use the hand on your chest to prevent breathing from your chest. Try for about 6 breaths per minute. This is a slow relaxed process; don't force it. Once you've learned this technique, practice it whenever you become anxious.
  • Eat a balanced diet: Don't skip meals. Try to eat from all of the food groups.
  • Learn to release muscle tension with a tension-taming exercise.
  • Exercise: Physical activity helps your body and mind. Go to the gym. Go for a walk. Practice yoga. Even a little exercise can reduce tension.
  • Try focusing: Select a small, special personal object. Focus all your attention on this object as you inhale and exhale slowly and deeply for one to two minutes. Try not to let any other thoughts or feelings enter your mind. This exercise can make you feel calmer and more peaceful.
  • Get a massage by a trained massage therapist, a friend or partner to promote relaxation.



  • Woman relaxing with her arms behind her head.Drop your shoulders: When you're tense, you're likely to lift your shoulders, which limits the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. Relaxing them restores circulation, and you'll feel more relaxed and clear-headed.
  • Meditate to relax and revitalize.
  • Socialize: Stay in touch with friends, do volunteer work, develop a support network.
  • Make time for enjoyable activities, like a warm bath or sipping herbal tea outside in the morning sun.
  • Talk it over: Reach out to your friend, family member, romantic partner or therapist when you're feeling stressed.
  • Avoid alcohol. While temporarily soothing, it depresses the central nervous system, which creates more anxiety and can even trigger panic attacks. Caffeine, nicotine and unprescribed drugs can also aggravate anxiety.

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Anxiety Disorders Association of America

Page updated August 1, 2010