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Relaxation techniques, a powerful ally against anxiety

Anxiety is an emotion that activates physical responses in our body, such as a change in heartbeat, breath frequency and muscle tension.  

The main reason of these changes stems from the fact that anxiety triggers the so-called primitive fight-or-flight response, which consists of the body’s automatic reactions by either fighting or fleeing the threat when a hazard is identified, to guarantee survival.

As a consequence, our heart beats faster to pump more oxygen to the muscles, our main muscles contract for increased strength and speed and we may perceive troubles breathing due to the contraction of the muscles of the chest. 

The tricky facet of the matter lies in the fact that this activation can maintain a high level of anxiety, giving rise to a vicious cycle. Anxious people are very sensitive to these physical changes and may interpret these responses in a negative way, as evidence of something bad about to happen or afoot. These individuals might feel like they are losing control or getting crazy or are affected by a serious disease. 

Another component contributing to the vicious cycle is an increase in respiratory rate, which can be regarded to as a maintaining factor, as well. When we are anxious, we are easily prone to hyperventilating, meaning a higher number of breath cycles per minute and breathing using the chest and not the diaphragm. As a consequence, we take in too much oxygen and that may lead to typical anxiety symptoms such as dizziness, confusion, air hunger and so on.

As these psychical changes maintain or enhance pre-existent anxiety, aiming to reach a state of calmness is a useful tool to relieve and prevent anxiety.

Cognitive behavioural psychotherapy tackles anxiety on different levels, either the cognitive, physical and behavioural one.

Relaxation techniques are an effective ally that can be used in therapy while working on the causes and interpretations that create and perpetuate anxiety disorders.

The patient is taught different types of techniques by their therapist and is encouraged to practice as much as possible in their daily life to master stress and anxiety and keep them under control in stressful situations.

Among the most common techniques, you may find slow breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, isometric relaxation and relaxation through guided imagery.

Slow breathing, as the name itself suggests, helps you thwart hyperventilation through constant breathing at a particular frequency.

On the other hand, progressive muscle relaxation and isometric relaxation focus on relaxing the muscles of our body, alternating contraction and relaxation of specific muscles.

Guided imaginary allows you to relax through imagination, visualising yourself in a peaceful state and place instead.

Relaxation techniques are an effective range of simple and easy-to-learn tools to help you manage anxiety and reach a state of relaxation.

If you are currently going through a bad patch and find it difficult to cope with stress on your own, or if you think that you might suffer from an anxiety disorder, seeking the help of a counsellor or a psychotherapist is warm-heartedly recommended.

Therapy can help you address the issue on different levels and reach a new balance.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Ilaria Tedeschi

Ilaria Tedeschi is a cognitive behavioural psychotherapist, BACP registered, working in Marylebone and Chelsea both in English and Italian, with adult and adolescent clients experiencing depressive, anxiety, sleep and relational issues.… Read more

Written by Ilaria Tedeschi

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