Stress, anxiety and depression

Moodzone logo

Relaxation tips to relieve stress

Coping with stress

Media last reviewed: 21/09/2014

Next review due: 21/09/2016

Relaxation can help to relieve the symptoms of stress. It can help you calm down and take a step back from a stressful situation.

Although the cause of the anxiety won’t disappear, you will probably feel more able to deal with it once you've released the tension in your body and cleared your thoughts.

All relaxation techniques combine breathing more deeply with relaxing the muscles.

Don't worry if you find it difficult to relax at first. It's a skill that needs to be learned and it will come with practice.

Yoga and tai chi are both good forms of exercise that may help to improve breathing and relaxation.

Relaxed breathing

Practise deep breathing at a regular time and in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Loosen or remove any tight clothes you have on, such as shoes or jackets. Make yourself feel completely comfortable.

Sit in a comfy chair which supports your head or lie on the floor or a bed. Place your arms on the chair arms, or flat on the floor or bed, a little bit away from the side of your body with the palms up. If you’re lying down, stretch out your legs, keeping them hip-width apart or slightly wider. If you’re sitting in a chair, don’t cross your legs.

Good relaxation always starts with focusing on your breathing. The way to do it is to breathe in and out slowly and in a regular rhythm as this will help you to calm down.

  • Fill up the whole of your lungs with air, without forcing. Imagine you're filling up a bottle, so that your lungs fill from the bottom.
  • Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • Breathe in slowly and regularly counting from one to five (don’t worry if you can’t reach five at first).
  • Then let the breath escape slowly, counting from one to five.
  • Keep doing this until you feel calm. Breathe without pausing or holding your breath.

Practise this relaxed breathing for three to five minutes, two to three times a day (or whenever you feel stressed).

Deep muscle relaxation

This technique takes around 20 minutes. It stretches different muscles in turn and then relaxes them, to release tension from the body and relax your mind.

Find a warm, quiet place with no distractions. Get completely comfortable, either sitting or lying down. Close your eyes and begin by focusing on your breathing; breathing slowly and deeply, as described above.

If you have pain in certain muscles, or if there are muscles that you find it difficult to focus on, spend more time on relaxing other parts.

You may want to play some soothing music to help relaxation. As with all relaxation techniques, deep muscle relaxation will require a bit of practice before you start feeling its benefits.

For each exercise, hold the stretch for a few seconds, then relax. Repeat it a couple of times. It’s useful to keep to the same order as you work through the muscle groups:

  • Face: push the eyebrows together, as though frowning, then release.
  • Neck: gently tilt the head forwards, pushing chin down towards chest, then slowly lift again.
  • Shoulders: pull them up towards the ears (shrug), then relax them down towards the feet.
  • Chest: breathe slowly and deeply into the diaphragm (below your bottom rib) so that you're using the whole of the lungs. Then breathe slowly out, allowing the belly to deflate as all the air is exhaled.
  • Arms: stretch the arms away from the body, reach, then relax.
  • Legs: push the toes away from the body, then pull them towards body, then relax.
  • Wrists and hands: stretch the wrist by pulling the hand up towards you, and stretch out the fingers and thumbs, then relax.

Spend some time lying quietly after your relaxation with your eyes closed. When you feel ready, stretch and get up slowly.

Page last reviewed: 16/12/2013

Next review due: 16/12/2015


How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 587 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating


The 8 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Dani Carter said on 25 August 2015

I'm only new to using mindfulness and meditation etc, I always assumed I wasn't the 'right type'. Which looking back seems silly now!

The muscle relaxations above are great for sitting at my desk - I get the worst shoulder pain. Maybe a little too much shrugging!

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

peacefulplace said on 15 April 2014

Prozac has never caused me withdrawal issues having used it successfully on & off over 20 yrs. In my experience side effects, & the degree to which the med helps manage symptoms, varies between individuals and even varies between episodes of depression or stress within the same individual. I keep an open mind when it comes to ways of managing stress generally, & find guided meditation tracks & mindfulness meditations useful items in my stress & pain management 'toolkits'. Both do what 1lou suggets below: put us in touch with our bodies thereby cultivating better awareness, which in turn can help me manage emotional & certain physical discomfort such as that caused by stress: tension for example.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

1lou said on 03 December 2013

Hi Supportworker,
I have done lots of work over the years re. breathing and relaxation as part of my work as a singer and performer and what I realise is that many people are very separated from their bodies, often because they never enjoyed physical activity at school and then adult life can lack any activity that involves focussing on the self and building on what the body can do. Anxiety on top of that can be totally disabling and increases sensitivity to any change in the body. I worked with a woman who had very high anxiety levels, revealed whenever I touched her to illustrate floating ribs etc; she lacked comfort in her own body and was insistent that deep breathing was 'bad' for her as she felt dizzy; done properly, slow deep breathing will not make you dizzy but it will feel different for a while. You need to watch your client carefully for signs of anxiety and work on slowing the pace of the breath and using counting and visualisation- like a candle's flame to reassure them that they are not taking in 'too much oxygen'. Good luck!

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Davie224w5 said on 30 October 2013

i've had depression/anxiety for about 6 years now at first it felt like there was no future then i developed
agorophobia wich made it 100000x harder to deal with and still is to this day. i've learnt that theres no quick fix and feeling better does take time and sometimes lots of it. my tips after experiencing this
for 6 years would be, try to avoid prozac if you can and only take as a last resort, if you do take them you can expect trouble when coming off the medication withdrawals etc. the only other thing i could say would
be to try and relax at night times right before bed, it
really does help.
but whatever or how you choose to help yourself i wish you all the best of luck and never give up things will
eventually get better.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Dh Vimokshadaka said on 19 May 2013

Hi Supportworker, it's very important that the breathing remains completely natural during any relaxation exercise. You are describing the relaxation process being adversely affected when this is not done. There are many common misconceptions about how to 'use' the breathing. Unfortunately this advice page may lead to people having these kind of problem, as it doesn't make this quite clear enough. (do you ever naturally breath in through the nose and out through the mouth - I don't know where this idea comes from). I recommend the work of Herbert Benson, MD. as a firm basis for any understanding of relaxation training.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

rachierascal2000 said on 16 March 2013

For relaxing, I find that a etter breathing exercise is beathing in for seven and out for eleven because you have to breathe slower and smehow this helps to make the stress just flow out of me .

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

azproblems said on 25 January 2013

The dizziness usually comes from breathing in too much Oxygen so the breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth does help. I find I get dizzy as well and what helps is breathing in enough that it's comfortable but not breathing in too deeply. My problem is that I find if I think about my breathing too much I get really anxious and find it harder to breath.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Supportworker said on 23 January 2013

I recently used these breathing exercises with a lady who suffers from anxiety to help her relax. However she reported feeling dizzy afterwards. I have done a little research which says we should breath in and out of our nose and not in through our nose and out through our mouth. I am a little confused as to what to suggest in terms of her controlling her breathing as I do not want her to feel dizzy as it adds to her anxiety. Please advise.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Beditation: getting a better night's sleep

Beditation is a class that can get you one step closer to a good night's rest. This class takes you step by step towards a comfortable seated practice of meditation ready for a perfect night's sleep.

Media last reviewed: 10/03/2014

Next review due: 10/03/2016

Services near you

Find emotional support services in your area

10 stress busters

Stress-beating tips that really help, including being more active and taking time out

Boost your mood with online therapy

Living Life To The Full is a practical course to learn coping skills for when life gets on top of you