One of your body's most useful healing mechanisms is its ability to relax. Putting yourself at ease counteracts the harmful effects of stress, including pain, high blood pressure, mild and moderate depression, hot flashes, and insomnia, says Herbert Benson, M.D., co-founder of the Benson–Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.
But relaxing isn't a simple matter of slipping into a bubble bath (though that may help). Specific methods—breathing exercises, prayer, or guided imagery—help to trigger what Benson has coined the relaxation response, a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress.
Focusing on your breath can be a kind of meditation, and like meditation, it can break the train of stressful thoughts. To do it, sit in a comfortable chair, take a few slow deep breaths and quietly repeat to yourself "I am" as you breathe in and "at peace" as you breathe out. Repeat slowly two or three times. Try this once or twice daily, or whenever you need the break.
Get over pain
You can use progressive muscle relaxation to relieve pain in your body. It can help with tight muscles or a tension headache, says Benson. Here's how to do it:
Lie flat on your back on a comfortable surface, and think of muscles in your body one by one, flexing each for a few seconds to half a minute and then relaxing. "Start with your face and move downward through your whole body, from shoulders to toes," says Benson. Do this once or twice a day for 10 to 20 minutes on a regular basis to help relieve muscle spasms or aches.
Treat anxiety and mild to moderate depression
Guided imagery exercises and prayers can help you beat the blues. To start, sit comfortably, breathe deeply, and picture yourself in a place that brings up good memories such as your favorite meal or place to visit. When thoughts intrude, gently disengage from them and return to the world you've created in your mind. Do this for five minutes, twice per day, on a regular basis.
If prayer is meaningful to you, it can also elicit the relaxation response, says Benson. You can use your favorite prayer or a phrase from it to help your focus as you sit and breathe for ten minutes.