Use These Clinically Proven Methods to Relax Quickly

By Jonathan Ford Hughes
Published April 28, 2021

Key Takeaways

Here’s the thing about relaxation: It’s kind of a paradox. Most physicians have little free time, are running themselves ragged, and need to relax. However, relaxation takes an investment of time and effort. Despite what you might think, effective stress management doesn’t require hours of chanting mantras or weeks spent in isolation in the Himalayas. You can alter your inner state in a matter of minutes using these scientifically validated approaches, lowering cortisol levels and your heart rate in the process. The key is to pick one that you like and practice consistently.

6 deep breaths

We’re putting the easiest one first. Even you have time to take 6 deep breaths when you’re feeling stressed. With enough repetition and attention, you can train yourself to notice when your nervous system is shifting from a parasympathetic to a sympathetic state, and use this approach to create a sense of ease.

A 2005 study published in Hypertension Research looked at how deep breathing affects blood pressure and pulse rate. Researchers divided participants into two groups. One took 6 deep breaths over 30 seconds while visiting a doctor’s office. The other group’s BP and pulse were measured after simply sitting for 30 seconds at the office. The group that did the breathing exercise had significantly reduced SBP, DBP, and PR, compared to baseline.

This type of breath work is called diaphragmatic breathing. Here’s how to do it

Listen to music

For the laziest among us, this may be the best way to go. You don’t have to do anything other than put on some relaxing music and tune in. This 2018 literature review lays out how music affects the bioelectrical rhythms of the brain, producing a more relaxing state. Specifically, the reviewers write, music increases alpha brainwave activity (typical of meditative states) and decreases beta activity (typical of our normal, waking state). 

This has useful clinical applications, according to the review. For the purpose of relaxation, evidence suggests that music helps manage feelings of depression, anxiety, and even schizophrenia symptoms. 

“Pleasant music either helps patients enter a state of tranquillity or distracts them from unpleasant feelings by stimulating the auditory receptors,” the authors wrote.

Here’s a multi-genre song list to help you relax.

Progressive muscle relaxation

This relaxation method requires a little more effort on your part, but the payoff is worth it. Abbreviated Progressive Relaxation Training (APRT) involves tensing and relaxing muscle groups in set intervals and a set sequence. A 2002 Biological Psychology study found that when compared to those who simply laid back and did nothing, study participants who did an APRT session had lower heart rates, anxiety levels, perceived stress, and salivary cortisol levels. Moreover, they self-reported higher levels of relaxation. Researchers added that the findings might have implications for boosting immune function.

You can learn how to do APRT on your own, but it helps to start with guided sessions. You can find them all over the internet and YouTube. Here’s a handy APRT guide.

Visualization/guided imagery

You could be in the thick of a stressful day and simultaneously be on your own private island, relaxing, tiki drink in hand. All it takes is a little imagination. Try it. It’s good for you. This Journal of Holistic Nursing study looked into the efficacy of guided imagery therapy for women with postpartum depression. Those who completed sessions for 4 weeks had less anxiety and depression, as well as higher reported levels of self-esteem. A 2018 Integrative Medicine literature review suggests that visualization and guided imagery may even be useful for pain management.

Much like APRT, if you choose to use visualization/guided imagery to relax, it’s best to learn the methods by following along first. Here’s how to get started.


Need to relax, fast?

  • Take 6 deep breaths spread out over 30 seconds.

  • Put on some music and listen closely.

  • Try tensing and relaxing muscle groups in order from your toes to your head.

  • Picture a pleasant scene in vivid detail.

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