Many of us know some helpful relaxation tips but are sometimes reluctant to use them, especially in public. Will Meek, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist at Brown University who developed an easy five-step sequence of the relaxation techniques he considers to be the most effective, and he shared them with Psychology Today. Dr. Meek recommends that people practice this sequence at least once a day, beginning in times of low stress. The effect is cumulative, so when an urgent need to relax eventually crops up, these five steps will be much more effective than if you had never practiced them before. You can do these exercises anywhere, even in your office!
First, become aware of your surroundings. Mentally and visually, identify where you are and notice the things around you. During times of high stress, we tend not to pay attention to our surroundings and instead focus on negative thoughts. Orienting is the first step in creating a more relaxed state.
In the second step, “intentionally notice ways you are connected to your surroundings.” This means pay attention to your senses and the physical relationship you have with your current surroundings, as in your position or posture, how your clothing feels against your skin, etc.
“Slowing” involves directing attention to internal processes such as heart rate and breathing. It’s during this step that you’ll use a breathing technique. Meek prefers a method called “4-7-8” (inhale through the nose for 4 counts, hold breath for 7, exhale through the mouth for 8, repeat) but feel free to use any breathing technique you find effective. You should start to notice your heart rate slowing at this point.
Here, you’re actually coaching yourself by thinking positive and calming messages instead of the anxious or angry thoughts you’d been experiencing. Keep up your breathing technique during the coaching step until you feel calm enough to return to whatever you had been doing before feeling anxiety or stress.
Emerging is when you “reenter” the world, and gently return to your daily flow and activities.
After finishing these five steps, you should feel much more calm, relaxed, and positive as you go about the rest of your day.