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4 Relaxation tips for stressful situations

Photo: Avelino Calvar Martinez

Everyone feels anxious now and then. Without proper stress management, negative emotions such as anxiety, can have an impact on our long-term health and well-being. But there are things you can do to minimise those feelings. We recommend these exercises to practise and use next time you find yourself worrying and anxious.

1. 5 4 3 2 1 Grounding Technique

This exercise helps you shift your focus to your surroundings in the present moment and away from what is causing you to feel anxious. It can help interrupt unhealthy thought patterns.

Steps: Sit or lie in a comfortable position, and begin to notice what you can see, hear and feel. Make sure you are not in complete darkness.

  • Vision: Say to yourself gently: “I can see …” and name any object in your field of vision. Repeat this for five different objects. For example: “I can see a chair”, “I can see a pen”.
  • Hearing: Then say to yourself: “I can hear…” and name any sound you can hear, focusing on external sounds. Repeat this four times. For example: “I can hear a ticking clock”, “I can hear the traffic outside”.
  • Touch: Acknowledge three things you can touch around you. Say: “I can feel…” and name any sensation you experience. Repeat this three times. For example: “I can feel the pen in my hand”, “I can feel the material of my t-shirt”.
  • Smell: This step might be more challenging than the others. Say to yourself: “I can smell…” and name any source of scent. For example: “I can smell soap from my hands”, “I can smell the fresh air”.
  • Taste: This can include anything. Say: “I can taste…” and acknowledge anything from toothpaste, mints, and gum, what you had for breakfast, to any drink you might have in the present moment.

You can repeat this sequence by changing the order in which you acknowledge your sensations: five things you feel, four things you see, etc. At the end of the exercise, take a deep breath. By focusing on the moment, you might feel more relaxed and with less “chatter” in your mind, and as a result you may feel less anxious and more in control.

2. Emergency Bag/Box

When we’re anxious and stressed, it’s difficult to focus and think rationally to help ourselves. Instead of using sabotaging or self-destructive behaviours, it’s useful to keep an ‘Emergency Bag/Box’. This can be any bag or box, decorated whoever you want, that keeps inside anything that can help you cope and make you feel better. By collecting together items that are meaningful, or helpful, you will have easy access to anything that will help soothe your senses. When you use these items, pay attention to your physical senses.

  • Vision: A picture of a beautiful place, a pet, or loved ones, a quote that inspires you.
  • Hearing: This can be on your phone, such as soothing music, recordings of relaxing sounds, an audiobook.
  • Touch: A piece of material that you like, a stress ball, a fidget toy, any comforter or grounding object.
  • Smell: Massage oils, a sachet of coffee, your favourite perfume.
  • Taste: Gum, a small fruit snack, sour candy.

You can also add activities that help with external focus or use energy, such as puzzle books, sudoku, notebooks and pens. You can also add a card with positive coping statements that you can read and say to yourself to help you through a distressing situation; for example: “I’ve done this before, and I can do it again”, “This is difficult and uncomfortable, but it’s only temporary”, “Thoughts are just thoughts — they’re not necessarily true or factual”.

3. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is an ancient eastern practice that can be used in our everyday lives. Mindfulness involves paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present, non-judgmentally. It involves noticing and acknowledging thoughts and physical sensations, without ruminating over them, avoiding thoughts about the past and future. Every time you practise mindfulness, you exercise your attention, gaining more control over your focus, rather than passively directing your attention towards anything distressful.

  • Mindful Activities: Whenever we do any task that requires little attention, we might end up ‘stuck in our head’ thinking about events that cause us stress. We can transform these moments into our mindfulness routine. For example, when doing the dishes, you might notice and focus on the water temperature, the texture of the sponge, the smell of the soap, or even hear the bubbles as they pop. The primary aim of mindful activities is to bring our attention toward the present moment, noticing sensations, from outside and within us.
  • Mindful Breathing: Sit comfortably, with your eyes closed and your spine reasonably straight. Direct your attention to your breathing. When thoughts, emotions, physical feelings or external sounds occur, simply accept them, giving them the space to come and go without judging or getting involved with them. When you notice that your attention has drifted off and is becoming caught up in thoughts or feelings, simply note that the attention has drifted, and then gently bring the attention back to your breathing. It’s ok and natural for thoughts to arise, and for your attention to follow them. No matter how many times this happens, just keep bringing your attention back to your breathing.

4. Guided Visualisation

Guided visualisation, or imagery, is a focus practice that involves all the five senses, aiming to relax the mind and body. You build images in your mind that your body feels as external sensations, using solely your own imagination. You can reconstruct a pleasant memory, a daydream, or listen to a recording (there’s plenty of examples on YouTube). The key is to keep this activity within a specific time frame, between two to ten minutes, to avoid getting completely lost in thought.

Guided Visualisation can help reduce fear and anxiety, as well as reduce psychological distress, and lessen the frequency of headaches, stimulate changes in heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory patterns.

Keep trying

Just like any activity, the more you do these relaxation techniques, the more natural they become. Do not give up or get discouraged. Negative feelings and their feedback loops can change, but it may take a long time and a lot of work. It’s a matter of perseverance — the negative self-talk needs confronting over and over again. Practise these relaxation techniques at moments when you don’t feel distressed, as you will get more acquainted with them. After some time, negative feelings may become less intense, happen less frequently, and may be over more quickly. FitQuid aims to motivate the community to live happy and healthy lives, offering challenges and rewards for mindful activities and habits.



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Auri Carballo

Auri Carballo

Psychology graduate, invested in helping communities.