14 Best Relaxation Techniques For Anxiety

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated November 2, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Anxiety can be a natural response to life events that have an uncertain outcome. However, chronic anxiety or stress can take a toll on your mental health and general well-being. For many people, practicing relaxation techniques can manage anxiety symptoms and decrease anxiety overall. Some of these relaxation techniques can include deep breathing, various types of meditation, yoga, self-massage, and visualization. If relaxation strategies don’t seem to be enough to keep your anxiety at bay, you might consider working with a licensed therapist online or in your local area.

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Learn To Relax And Manage Anxiety Effectively

Relaxation Techniques And Stress Management

Many treatment options can reduce stress and anxiety, including psychological interventions (i.e., cognitive behavioral therapy) and medications. Beyond these treatments, relaxation techniques have often been shown to reduce the symptoms of anxiety. These techniques are usually meant to induce a feeling of relaxation and calmness that can reduce anxiety throughout the day. They can be used when your anxiety levels are high or as part of a daily routine to maintain a healthy lifestyle. 

It can be important to note that not all relaxation exercises for anxiety may work for everyone. However, you can choose from different techniques to determine which one may most benefit you. Relying on only one technique all the time may also not be beneficial. You may want to have as many tools in your arsenal as possible, with individual techniques appropriate for different situations. 

Making regular use of relaxation techniques for anxiety can help you reduce stress, manage anxiety attacks, and potentially decrease your reliance on medications and other therapies. 

The following list is an introduction to several different options to help you relax. If you want to learn more about individual therapies, please speak with your therapist or healthcare provider. 

If you find that your anxiety is unmanageable and you feel it is diminishing your quality of life, talk to your healthcare provider or make an appointment with a therapist for help. You may easily match with a licensed therapist by joining an online therapy platform.

1. General Meditation

Meditation can be one of the most effective forms of stress reduction. The general practice usually involves clearing your mind or focusing on your breath using physical and mental strategies. No matter which technique you choose, the end result typically brings relaxation and a notable reduction in anxiety and stress.  

2. Transcendental Meditation

Many studies have found transcendental meditation to be highly beneficial to people with anxiety. In transcendental meditation, you typically repeat a mantra for about 20 minutes. A mantra can be a word or sound that is repeated to aid in your focus during meditation. The mantra can be just about anything you desire, but the most common may be the sound or syllable “om,” which is generally believed to be rooted in Sanskrit. 

Repeating a mantra, especially the sacred mantra om, may help your relaxation beyond the simple practice of meditation. When you draw out the "om," it usually creates a vibration in your vocal cords. This can activate the vagus nerve, which is generally believed to be the longest cranial nerve. Activating this nerve can lower your heart rate and deepen your breathing, often resulting in a very calming effect.

3. Guided Meditation

Guided meditation normally requires more concentration than transcendental meditation. A guided meditation may be a video or audio-only experience. A soothing voice may provide guided imagery and lead you to visualize certain scenes, usually nature scenes.

The guided meditation may also include a soothing voice telling you to let go of your thoughts. Guided meditations can be good for people who have a hard time with other forms of meditation as someone generally keeps your focus on the task at hand.

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4. Concentrated Meditation

Concentrated meditation is typically defined as the practice of concentrating on a specific idea or clearing your mind. You can do this with or without background music. When doing concentrated meditation, you may focus on one specific idea or image in your mind. As distracting thoughts come to the forefront, you may acknowledge and dismiss them until your mind is a blank slate.

This is often considered the most difficult type of meditation to accomplish. Many people who start with this method become frustrated and think that meditation may not be for them. If the concentrated form of meditation does not work for you, it’s generally recommended to try a different one. With more practice, you may be able to return to a concentrated meditation that helps you relax. 

5. Body Scan Meditation

According to Harvard Health Publishing, body scans can produce a relaxation response in the body. In a body scan meditation, you usually focus your attention on different parts of your body. You might start with your feet and work your way up. You should generally avoid tensing and relaxing your muscles with this meditation. You are normally only focusing your awareness on that part of your body and assessing how it feels. For example, during your body scan, you may ask yourself the following: If you are wearing socks, how do your feet feel in the socks? How does your shirt sleeve feel against your skin? 

It is suggested to do body scan meditations lying down with your legs uncrossed. As you experience feelings and sensations in each part of your body, you can simply bring your attention to them and take note of what they feel like.

6. Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is generally designed to bring you into the present moment. Rather than focusing on what may happen in the future (which can lead to anxious thoughts), you can focus your mind on what is happening right now at this moment.

There can be many ways to practice mindfulness meditation. You can focus on breathing patterns or one specific sentence or phrase. You can focus on following intrusive thoughts and releasing them. You might also focus on the sensations of things around you, such as what you can smell, see, feel, or hear.

7. Yoga

Yoga may be another meditative practice that generally has proven health benefits and can lower your anxiety levels.It is rooted in ancient Buddhist and other philosophical and religious traditions and typically involves breathing techniques, physical postures, and meditation (in Western cultures). Studies have shown that cyclic meditation in yoga can decrease symptoms and occurrences of anxiety in many patients. Cyclic meditation in yoga usually involves alternating yoga poses with supine rest.

There tend to be several different styles of yoga that range from gentle practices to physically demanding ones. It can be helpful to choose one that focuses on slow, steady movement and deep breathing. For more information on yoga and how it can reduce stress, you might read this article from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

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Learn To Relax And Manage Anxiety Effectively

8. Deep Breathing

Deep breathing can be a highly effective relaxation technique for anxiety attacks, stress, and other mental health concerns. You can practice deep breathing anywhere and at any time. It can be performed alone or in combination with other types of relaxation techniques, such as meditation, aromatherapy, or while listening to relaxing music. Deep breathing exercises are typically best done sitting up in a straight posture where you can take slow, deep breaths.

The general technique is as follows:

Take a regular breath through your nose and out through your mouth. Counting slowly as you inhale can increase the depth of the breaths you take and ensure that you are expelling all air from your diaphragm as you exhale. 

To ensure you are breathing correctly, you can rest one hand on your chest and one on your stomach. As you breathe, the space between your hands should usually increase with your inhalation and decrease with your exhalation. 

Try to take slow, regular breaths. Breathing in too deeply or rapidly can make you feel dizzy and potentially create more stress. One method to increase stress resilience may be to imagine that you are pushing out all of the worries and anxious feelings as you exhale. 

9. Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation can be a straightforward relaxation technique that may help you control and manage anxiety and reduce muscle tension. Of the various relaxation techniques for anxiety discussed, this is one that may be used during an anxiety attack or when you are feeling anxious in nearly any situation. You generally only need a few minutes without interruption.

You can practice progressive muscle relaxation while lying down or sitting comfortably. The technique normally involves tensing each muscle for a few seconds, starting with your feet, before relaxing and moving to the next muscle group. You can work your way up through your body, from your feet into your legs, into your thighs, to your buttocks, your abdomen, your chest, your arms, hands, and finally, your shoulders and neck. 

Trying not to think of anything else, focus on tensing and releasing each muscle group, and observe the tension leaving those muscles. Regular practice of progressive muscle relaxation can lead to stress management, pain relief, and even improved sleep.

10. Rhythmic Movement And Mindful Exercise

You may not initially think of exercise as relaxing, but rhythmic movement and mindful exercise can be great relaxation techniques. Some of the best examples may be dancing, walking, running, swimming, and rowing. As you are doing these activities, it can be important to be mindful.

Mindful exercise typically involves focusing your mind completely on the present. You can focus on the rhythm that your body is making with the movements. Focus on the music you are listening to while exercising or dancing. Focus on the feeling of your muscles tensing and relaxing with the movement and how your body feels. Focus on your breathing. Your entire focus should be on what you are doing at this moment.

11. Visualization

Visualization can be an ideal relaxation exercise for anxiety and stress management because it may be done anywhere at any time. Simply sit comfortably and close your eyes. Visualize a place that makes you feel calm—the so-called “happy place”. It could be a favorite childhood spot, a clearing in the woods, a nature park you like to frequent, a beach, or your favorite camping spot.

As you bring this image to mind, try to focus your attention on making the image as clear as possible. What details can you see? You can also take the visualization further by looking for things that affect the senses. What could you smell, hear, touch, taste, or see if you were really in this place? Focusing on these details may help the image become clearer to you and focus your mind. When you are done, slowly open your eyes and take note of the exercise’s impact on your stress response. Guided imagery often allows you to replace negative mental images that may be affecting your mental well-being with more positive ones.

12. Tai Chi

Tai chi is generally thought to be a Chinese martial art practice used for its health benefits, defense training, and meditation. It is normally characterized by slow, flowing body movements. Tai chi can be considered exercise, but it’s usually low-impact and not stressful. 

According to Harvard Health Publishing, tai chi can be another way of producing a relaxation response and improving mental health. Tai chi can not only combat the stress response, but also decrease pain, help with weight loss, and improve brain function. It is usually best to learn tai chi in a class setting. You can find tai chi classes in your local community through community centers or gyms. You can also find tai chi classes online and do them virtually in your own home.

13. Self-Massage

Massage can be a pain- and stress-relieving form of physical therapy that is typically performed by a massage therapist. You may not realize that you can get many of the same benefits of a professional massage by simply massaging yourself. This simple relaxation technique can help you at the end of a long day or when you are trying to release your anxiety to sleep at night.

You can start your self-massage by kneading the muscles in your neck and shoulders. You might use your fists to work the tense muscles and then use your fingertips to massage your neck up to the base of the skull. Then you can use your fingers to massage your face as well.

14. Electromyography (EMG) Biofeedback Therapy

Electromyography is generally defined as a type of biofeedback that can be helpful in the treatment of anxiety. Sensors are usually placed on the body to measure muscle tension and provide feedback in the form of sounds or pulses. Studies have found that EMG biofeedback can be particularly helpful for situational anxiety, such as test-taking anxiety, as well as general anxiety. In this therapy, a practitioner will typically guide you through the process to help you understand the results and give you tips on how to relax the tense muscles. 

Getting Professional Help

For some people, these relaxation techniques for anxiety may not be enough. Contacting a therapist is often the first step in improving your mental well-being and learning to manage anxiety symptoms. If you are having a difficult time finding a therapist locally or do not have the time to travel to and from appointments, you might consider online therapy

As this study explains, there’s generally no difference in effectiveness between traditional and online therapy. Either option can provide you with the high-quality professional help and guidance you deserve.

Online Therapist Reviews

“This is the third time I come back for therapy with Adeola, and I still can’t recommend her enough. She puts her soul into her work, and it really shines through. She has given me amazing tools to manage my anxiety, tools that I will keep for life. I always feel happier and lighter after our sessions, and I am very grateful. Thank you, Adeola :)”

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Takeaway

Relaxation techniques can be an effective way to calm anxiety symptoms. You might try different types of meditation, tai chi, visualization, yoga, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation (among many other options) to determine which techniques are most effective for you. If you feel that you’d benefit from more personalized guidance, then working with a therapist may be helpful. You can connect with a licensed mental health professional locally or through an online therapy platform.

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