If you need to reduce stress and manage anxiety, research indicates specific relaxation techniques can help. Whether you live with anxiety or you need some relaxation from time to time, periodically taking some time to breathe and pause can offer you many health benefits. Reducing anxiety and stress is possible, and it may only take a few minutes every day.

Three relaxation exercises for everyday stress

Consider saving a few minutes each day to engage in one or more of these stress-reducing techniques. They can help you relax your mind in 5 minutes or less.

Progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is an effective stress-relieving practice. It involves clenching and releasing isolated muscle groups one at a time. You can do this exercise almost everywhere, and it can offer you benefits immediately. When incorporating this relaxation technique into your daily routine, consider doing it this way:

  • Step 1: Sit comfortably or lie down. Breathe slowly and deeply.
  • Step 2: Pick one muscle group. You can start from the bottom up.
  • Step 3: Tense the selected muscles as much as you can and hold 5 to 10 seconds.
  • Step 4: Release the muscle group progressively until fully relaxed.
  • Step 5: Pause for 10 seconds and focus on how that part of the body feels.
  • Step 6: Repeat steps 1 through 5 with the next muscle group.
  • Step 7: Do steps 1 through 4 with every muscle group you want to work with.

When you tense your muscles, try to do so firmly without causing yourself pain or discomfort. Here is a list of the muscle groups you may want to target during this exercise:

  • feet (pressing on the floor)
  • legs (pressing them together)
  • buttocks
  • abdomen
  • chest
  • shoulders (lifting toward neck both or one at a time)
  • forearms and hands (pressing hands together)
  • mouth (pressing lips or teeth together)
  • forehard (lifting eyebrows)
  • cheeks (smiling widely with your mouth closed)

You may want to repeat those muscle groups that offer you deeper relaxation.

Guided imagery
In this relaxation exercise, you’ll use your imagination to help you achieve deep peace. You may want to do this at the start of your day or before bedtime. Try to avoid doing it at times when you need to be fully alert. It’s also important to choose a time of the day when you won’t get interrupted by people, devices or loud noises. Here’s one guided imagery you may want to consider:

  • Step 1: Sit in a comfortable position or lie down with eyes closed.
  • Step 2: Start breathing slowly and deeply.
  • Step 3: Pick a mental image that soothes you. This can be a pleasant memory or pure imagination.
  • Step 4: To intensify the experience, try to bring your five senses to the image you have thought of:
  1. What do you see?
  2. What do you hear?
  3. What do you feel?
  4. What do you smell?
  5. What do you taste?

Step 5: Enjoy the environment you’ve created. You can spend a few minutes or as long as you need. If it becomes difficult to stay focused, consider bringing in your senses one more time and breathe slowly. It’s common to have a hard time at first if you aren’t used to mental imagery. You may want to create a simpler scenario first. For example, consider imagining yourself sitting on a beach watching and listening to the waves come and go.

Self-hypnosis is another technique to help you achieve greater states of relaxation. It’s about using hypnosis exercises without a hypnotherapist. You’ll try to do some mental imagery and give yourself commands and cues. Here’s a step-by-step guide for self-hypnosis:

  • Step 1: Start with setting your intention and motivation. This is your reason for doing this hypnosis exercise. For example, “my motivation is to achieve deep relaxation.”
  • Step 2: Find a quiet, distraction-free place. Try to set aside a time when you won’t be interrupted.
  • Step 3: Sit or lie down comfortably. Breathe deeply. Close your eyes.
  • Step 4: Select and repeat a phrase that connects to your motivation. For example, “I am relaxed,” or, “my body is at peace.”
  • Step 5: Work with this or any other positive affirmations as long as needed, breathing deeply throughout.
  • Step 6: Focus on one affirmation at a time, and if you feel up for it, you can repeat the phrase while you imagine you’ve already accomplished your goal. For example, mentally repeat, “I am deeply relaxed” while you picture yourself feeling at peace and looking relaxed.

Relaxation meditation
Meditation is a widely studied and widely used practice that can help you improve your overall health. Here’s a simple meditation you can practice daily for natural anxiety and stress relief:

  • Step 1: Sit in a quiet, distraction-free location.
  • Step 2: Maintain a comfortable but raised posture, such as a straight back, shoulders down, and feet flat on the floor.
  • Step 3: Choose an object of focus. This may be:
    • a word you repeat mentally or aloud
    • something in the room, like a candle, you stare at
    • an image you hold in your mind with closed eyes
    • the rhythm of your breath
  • Step 4: Breathe deeply and slowly. Stay with your object of focus. If your mind strays, or you have distracting thoughts, simply let them pass by without judgment and return to your object.

Three relaxation techniques for anxiety

Quick relaxation exercises can help you manage anxiety symptoms without much preparation. You can practice these techniques on the spot and almost everywhere.

Box breathing
This quick breathing technique works by using your imagination and working with your breathing. The goal is to picture your breathing following the shape of a box or square. Consider following these steps:

  • Step 1: Breathe in as deep as you can for 4 seconds while you image going up one side of a mental square.
  • Step 2: Hold your breath for four seconds as you imagine going across the top wall of the square.
  • Step 3: Breathe out slowly for 4 seconds while you go down the other side of the square.
  • Step 4: Hold your breath for 4 seconds while you go across the bottom side of the square and return to the arrival point.
  • Step 5: Repeat steps 1 to 4 for at least 1 minute.

The length of each step is a guide. You can set the amount of time that you prefer.

Drawing calming circles
This relaxation technique involves sitting down and using a blank piece of paper. You’ll also need a pen, pencil, or crayons. You can do this exercise at any moment you feel your anxiety rising.
Try these steps:

  • Step 1: Sit at a table with your feet firmly planted on the floor.
  • Step 2: Draw a circle on a piece of paper that fills most of the page.
  • Step 3: Keeping your pencil or crayon on the page at all times, begin to draw a circular pattern.
  • Step 4: Remain focused on your drawing without judgment.
  • Step 5: Continue drawing in circles for as long as you need.
  • Step 6: After a few minutes, you can change the pattern (direction or shape) and pen colour.
  • Step 7: Continue drawing as needed.

The goal of the relaxation exercise is to focus on the drawing motion, instead of doing it perfectly or making it look pretty. You can also try to do it with your nondominant hand.

Connecting to your senses
This anxiety relief exercise helps ground you in the moment and take your mind off what’s making you feel anxious. Consider these steps:

  • Step 1: Name five objects you can see where you are.
  • Step 2: Name four things you can feel or touch right now.
  • Step 3: Name three things you can hear.
  • Step 4: Name two things you can smell.
  • Step 5: Name one thing you can taste.

You can do this technique anywhere, and if you can’t find anything at hand, you can also imagine these objects. For example, in step 5, you can imagine how coffee tastes.