Help Me Relax
January 25, 2004 3:38 PM   Subscribe

Relaxation techniques.

Sure, I googled, but I can't separate the useful from the garbage. I have a hell of a day tomorrow, and I'm wound really tightly. What are some free, effective relaxation techniques that I can do anywhere, without special equipment?
posted by trharlan to Health & Fitness (14 answers total)
Hot bath. Warm milk. Dark room. Good book. Calm music. Strenuous exercise. I find that visualization techniques where I lie someplace dark and quiet [or with really mellow music at a low volume] and sort of work at letting my mind put me someplace else can be helpful. The trick is to make sure you can be someplace undisturbed for a little bit and position yourself so you're not having a foot or hand fall asleep. You can lie down and concentrate on flexing and relaxing different muscle groups starting at your head and working down to your toes, sloooooooowly. This is great if you can get someone to sort of talk you through it, but unless you know someone good at it, it's often not worth it to do it with someone else. I find that doing some very slow stretching, as if I were warming up for some exercise, but much much slower helps calm a racing mind. Also, if you need a quick fix, concentrating on your breathing [breathe in for a three-count, hold for a three count, breathe out for a three count, hold for a three count] can help with panic-attack type anxiety. Some people find candles, incense or other things with soothing scents to be very relaxing, some people get sneezing fits. I find TV to be non-relaxing and have heard from others that the blinking lights can sort of key you up, not put you out. Lastly, don't underestimate the usefulness of a drink or two [if you are so inclined] not to get sloppy drunk, but just to take the edge off and let yourself concentrate on other things.
posted by jessamyn at 3:54 PM on January 25, 2004 [1 favorite]

The Relaxation Response (Amazon for the book or distilled here) has been very effective for me.
On preview: it's pretty similar to what jessamyn described.
posted by TimeFactor at 4:21 PM on January 25, 2004

I like this one, from Dr. Weil. Works like a charm for me.
posted by kittyb at 4:31 PM on January 25, 2004

To add to what jessamyn said, tightening each muscle group and then releasing is great. My twist, though, is to go from top to bottom (or bottom up), but *hold* those muscles in tension until you get all the way down your body. Then start from the top again, releasing each group in the order you tightened them. If you do this twice, and *really* concentrate (lying down while you do this helps), your muscles will become much more relaxed than they were before.
Tomorrow, get some caffeine in you - especially if you're used to it, since a lack of caffeine will make you feel weird. However, instead of coffee or soda, make yourself some green tea with a dab of honey. If you can, take a short run before the stressful day begins, too.

And don't forget to take your vitamins. I just got done taking the GRE the other day, and used all of these techniques to supplement my studying. DO NOT slam a Red Bull just before your meeting/review/whatever. Trust me.
posted by notsnot at 6:26 PM on January 25, 2004

A joint, but that's probably not the type of answer you're seeking...
posted by five fresh fish at 7:10 PM on January 25, 2004 [1 favorite]

It's not a particularly usefull long term solution either.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 8:42 PM on January 25, 2004

Wouldn't that count as special equipment, anyway?
posted by ook at 9:22 PM on January 25, 2004

You can't do this anywhere but it works wonders for me when I'm home. I take a nap in a tub full of water. I lace my fingers together and put my hands behind my head. This puts my elbows touching the sides of the tub and cradling my head so it's pointed straight up. I then fill the water up (warm approaching hot) to nostril level, shut off the light, and go to sleep. In about 40 minutes the water will cool, this wakes me up.
posted by dobbs at 10:40 PM on January 25, 2004

I cannot recommend self-hypnosis enough.

Toss out all the garbage that you probably have seen on TV about magicians on a stage making someone bark like a dog. Self-hypnosis, for the scientific-minded, can be thought of as nothing more than a technique for using mental visualization to focus on physical or psychological relaxation.

Think of it as a script or routine for centering yourself and your thoughts, and then calming your body systematically. My personal routine is nothing more than going through the body, part by part, and relaxing each one, with a little creative imagery thrown in to help create a calm setting.

In the movies it takes 20 seconds before you're ready to bark like a dog and recount your past lives, but in real life, it's a 10-20 minute process, in which you never lose consciousness, but during which you can profoundly relax yourself. With practice, you can learn to trigger relaxation responses in yourself very quickly, with just a little concentration. There's really nothing hocus-pocus about it.

Forget the X-files shit about repressed memories, bizarre semi-dream-states, etc. You don't need to lose control or consciousness, you won't experience past lives, you'll just focus on a human voice that guides you through the release of tension and active relaxation.

Since self-hypnosis involves recording your own hypnosis tapes, all the control is in your hands. Don't bother with purchasing tapes, etc. It helps to do it yourself.

I have used self-hypnosis for more than 10 years to bring relaxation, calm, concentration, clarity, even sleep. I've done some experimentation with post-hypnotic suggestion (with some success) but I mostly just use hypnosis as a focussed way of relaxing. I don't even need the tapes anymore to be honest. I can calm and center myself in under a minute, so long as I have the freedom to close my eyes and stop talking.

Buy a book or two. I cannot find the first book I ever used on Amazon or I would link it. I had the fortune of studying under a professional as part of a high school project for a while as well. I wish I had better suggestions for learning, but all I can do is encourage you to try.

Avoid anything new age-y. I repeat: I recommend you make your own tapes/recordings. Use a cheap-ass tape recorder, or your computer, or your freakin' cell phone or whatever. It's not hard to record the human voice, but that voice has power.

The process of recording your own tapes, even if you're just reading from a book, will help you focus on the content. That, and I think most people feel silly listening to some weirdo stranger telling them to relax... relax... relax.... It's a somewhat uncomfortable experience for many people the first time (because of all the crap they've seen in movies about mind-control) so it helps a lot to make the tape yourself. Try it.

There's really no magic to it. It's just a way of focusing your thoughts on your body, your breathing, and taking those things to a state of rest. Some people chant "Om' for an hour and a half. I prefer to go through my body joint by joint, muscle by muscle, until the whole thing is jelly, with no religious overtones whatsoever.

When you think about it, self-hypnosis is just atheist meditation. Give it a shot. I'm happy to help out more in person. Just email my username (at)
posted by scarabic at 11:25 PM on January 25, 2004

Scarabic, your post was one of the coolest things I've read. I've attempted meditation / relaxation, and I can almost do it (takes me a long time, never lasts long, and I can never really empty my mind), but I've never really pondered the concept of "self-hypnosis", in terms of listening to your own voice on tape. Haven't got a nice collection of links to sneak onto the blue, have you?

Plug: I have created my own musical relaxation soundtracks, some of which can be found here. I basically made this music because I find it puts my mind into another zone, and is one of the few things that works to relax me, but your mileage will probably vary.
posted by Jimbob at 2:58 AM on January 26, 2004

Quick and simple relaxation ...

Lying down, knees raised, head possibly cushioned, right hand on stomach (palm on stomach), left hand over right hand. Feel your breath expand your abdomen. Feel your breath-out contracting your abdomen. Concentrate on the breath out. Breathe through nose.

Use with counting, breath-in-and-out : ten, then nine, down to one. Repeat until calm.

Sitting: you can breathe counting from ten to one, as above.

You can also breathe in slowly counting up to four, and then breathe out slowly (but through your mouth this time), counting back down to zero. Repeat until calm.

Also breathe in, pause to the count of three or four (or whatever is comfortable) and then breathe out (again through the mouth) and pause for a few counts before breathing in again, etc.

Or variations thereof.

Remembering to take a moment out (even just a minute or two) every now and again, can help you refocus and re-center yourself. Even just taking a pause before doing something can help your mind catch up, and help you be in the present, making you clearer-minded and so less flustered.

I find the counting-down technique, described above a quick and simple, easily-to-hand and powerful method for calming down myself. it usually just takes three or four cycles to have an appreciable effect.
posted by Blue Stone at 6:11 AM on January 26, 2004

Oh yeah... your breathing should be slow and steady.
posted by Blue Stone at 6:13 AM on January 26, 2004

The Stress and Relaxation Reduction Workbook is a classic. It's pragmatic, doesn't get all Deepak Chopra on you, and covers *everything*. Now if only I followed its advice.
posted by mecran01 at 7:34 AM on January 26, 2004

Thanks, everyone. You helped. I was well-focused and I did much better than I expected to on the GMAT.
posted by trharlan at 7:12 AM on January 27, 2004

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