Stress and anxiety can exacerbate pain. In fact, this can start a vicious cycle as intense feelings of pain tend to cause more stress and anxiety. You can counteract this downward spiral if you learn how to relax.

Relaxation Decreases Stress

While relaxation techniques don’t take away the pain, they can help get it under control. They help muscles release, and breathing and heart rate to slow down.

Relaxation allows the mind to become calm and to focus elsewhere.

In other words, it becomes distracted from pain sensations. Scientists theorize that things in our environment compete for the brain’s attention. Essentially, it can only focus on a certain amount of input at once. Focusing on sensations other than tension and pain, or even introducing new sensations can “close the gate” to pain.

The pain doesn’t go away, it just drops into the background.

Coping With Stress

Some stress is avoidable, but most of the time it catches you unaware. Traffic jams, a heavy workload and disruptions to the daily routine all cause some sort of stress. The key to learning to relax is not to avoid stress altogether, but to instead learn how to cope with it. Here are some simple relaxation strategies you can do anywhere, including at your desk, in your car or in your home.

Breathe deeply — Inhale completely; hold it for a few seconds, and then exhale. Do this a few times. Close your eyes. Concentrate on the sound of your breath, and try to slow it down.
Think about something else — Guided imagery takes us to a happy place, but you don’t need to take a 30-minute journey to get there. When you feel stressed, stop what you are doing. Picture yourself doing something relaxing, like taking a bath, swimming in the ocean, or resting on a hammock. Imagine the scene as vividly as you can. Go there anytime you need to “escape.”

Sing a song — Singing helps release tension. If you are alone, try singing a song that makes you happy at the top of your lungs. If you can’t belt it out where you are, simply humming a few bars of your favorite tune can relieve stress.

Tense and let go — Find the most tender spot in your body, and make it as tense as you can. Hold for a few seconds, and then release. Repeat that a few times to relax tight muscles.
Walk away — Feeling stressed in your cubicle? Spouse irritating you? Take a little walk. Sometimes taking a short break from a tense environment is all you need. Grab a glass of water or get some fresh air. Count to ten if you need to. Then, return feeling refreshed and a little calmer.

Regular Stress Relief

If you find that day-to-day life is stressful in and of itself, you may need a more intense pick-me-up. If this is true for you, make it a priority to take time to yourself. Here are a few suggestions for regularly scheduled relaxation.

Yoga — Taking a yoga class regularly has several benefits. First, it gives you an uninterrupted relaxation session that may last up to an hour or two. Second, it teaches you breathing techniques that you can use to calm yourself in your daily life. It also increases strength and flexibility, which has pain-relieving benefits. Try taking a beginner’s yoga class once a week.

Massage — Having a massage every few weeks is a great way to reduce muscle tension and get pampered at the same time. Massage helps relax the mind and body, and a skilled massage therapist can find your problem spots and get them under control. Often combined with aromatherapy and meditation, a massage is a wonderful way to melt your stress away.

Meditation — Meditation in its purest form involves focusing on one thing to clear your mind. Usually done in a quiet room, it calms the mind and the body. Meditation sounds easier than it is, however, and distraction is usually a problem for beginners. Try using a guided imagery or hypnosis recording for meditation, or seek the guidance of a professional.

Go on a date — How often do you schedule down time? Try making a regular date with friends or your spouse for some unwind time. Go out for coffee, see a movie or even take on a long walk in the park. Taking the time to connect with people outside of your usual routine can help reduce stress. Once you make your date, do whatever it takes not to break it.

When You Need a Little More Help

Sometimes stress makes things spiral out of control. Anxiety and tension can escalate quickly, causing the kind of panic and pain that requires more than singing a song or going for a massage.

Events that are out of your control, such as natural disasters or the death of a loved one, can leave you feeling helpless. Intense daily stress such as financial hardships or marital trouble can be hard to escape from,. When stress is closing in on you, you may need a little help to recover.