Relaxation is an active skill that requires development through practice. Like sleeping, you can't force a state of relaxation. It requires mental rest as well as physical, and so differs from passive activities such as watching television or reading. It is not the same as sleeping.
Regular relaxation can help you decrease tension in muscles, lower your blood pressure and slow your heart rate. Relaxation can help with fatigue as it promotes good sleep patterns, increases benefit from rest periods during the day and can help to manage stressful situations.
Types of relaxation
Finding an effective relaxation technique may take time as different techniques will suit different people. The relaxation technique used by someone to help them get to sleep will be different from that required by someone who is looking for a way to revitalise themselves during the day.
The following list contains a few examples, but there are many more.
Most of the time we do not think about breathing. However, focusing on how you breathe and creating a slow, deep and even pattern will help you to feel calmer and more relaxed and can create a distraction from the causes of stress.
Visualisation involves using the imagination to go to a relaxing place. This could be somewhere you have previously visited, somewhere seen on the television or in a magazine or something entirely from your imagination. The knack with this technique is focusing on all the senses to experience in detail what can be seen, heard, smelt, tasted and felt within the chosen scene.
Some people find the use of gentle background music or photos of places with happy memories helpful and there are also tapes available that guide the listener through relaxing scenes. Finding the right combination of voice, speed of speaking, music and subject matter that works for you may take some experimentation.
There are a number of specific techniques that concentrate on relaxing muscle groups. In addition to producing a feeling of calmness and relaxation, these techniques help you to identify areas of the body where tension is held. However if you have existing problems with spasticity or stiffness in limbs, discuss this with a health professional before trying a muscle relaxation technique.
There are a number of books that detail techniques. Whilst the specifics of exercises may differ, the basics are the same.
- Set aside time to concentrate on the exercises.
- Lie or sit comfortably. You may prefer relaxing music to be playing.
- Spend time concentrating on breathing (as described previously).
Complete the techniques to a level that is comfortable and allow time to enjoy the feelings of relaxation achieved.
Massage helps to relax muscles and relieve tension as well as providing the soothing benefits of touch. Massage can be given by trained professional masseurs, although courses and books are available for partners or friends to learn basic techniques. Massage is sometimes combined with aromatherapy.
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to promote health and well-being and some oils are thought to have relaxing effects. Oils can be used in the bath (if heat sensitivity is not an issue for you), as a steam inhalation, in an oil burner or during massage. Although aromatherapy oils are usually used with no problems, some people are allergic to some fragrances and some oils may cause a rash if applied to the skin. If you are concerned, seek advice before starting aromatherapy.
Yoga, tai chi and Pilates
Yoga, tai chi and Pilates exercises use combinations of breathing, movement, posture and meditation. Check locally for classes or group sessions, or there are plenty of books and DVDs available to help you practise on your own.
I find pilates works best at relaxing me, and because it helps my posture it relieves muscle tension. Learning to take an hour's catnap is also a good skill
I find the breathing and gentle stretching of yoga very helpful against tension and anxiety that stops me sleeping. It took me a long time to find a class that suited me though
Try a relaxation session
Vicki Matthews MS Specialist nurse has created two relaxing, calming sessions. Get comfortable and give them a try!
Relaxation audio file
The video is an extract from the exercise DVD - Move it for MS
Last updated: July 2018
Last reviewed: July 2018
This page will be reviewed within three years