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Feb 25

Relaxation Techniques for Depression


By Diana Rodriguez
Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
People with depression often struggle with more emotional weight than depression alone. Depression and anxiety often go hand-in-hand, and stress can also challenge your emotional health. When anxiety and stress build up, they can affect your depression symptoms and make them more difficult to manage. Some simple relaxation techniques may help you escape your stress and anxiety, as well as better manage your depression.
How Relaxation Helps Depression

Caring for all aspects of your emotional health is important for managing depression, and that means easing stress and anxiety, too. A daily dose of relaxation may be just what the doctor ordered.

“Relaxation can help just about anybody,” says Jennifer L. Payne, MD, PhD, assistant professor and co-director of the Women’s Mood Disorders Center at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Anxiety, which is common in people who have depression, can make people feel tense. The anxiety can be severe, says Dr. Payne, and may even lead to panic attacks.

“Certainly when someone is depressed, much of their outlook is negative,” adds Payne. “Relaxation techniques can help with that; it can bring people down a notch so that they’re not so anxious or negative.” Relaxation techniques such as meditation, massage, and exercise can also release endorphins, which are chemicals in the body that relieve pain and are thought to elevate your mood.

Relaxation also benefits your physical health. “It’s another tool to combat those physical effects of depression,” Payne says.

Relaxation techniques may even help prevent depression in some people. According to Payne, “Environmental stress can trigger depressive episodes, so if you have a genetic predisposition to depression, and you go through a stressful time, you are more likely to have a depressive episode. Learning how to control your stress levels may help prevent depressive episodes.”

Relaxation Techniques for Depression

Which relaxation techniques will be most effective for improving emotional health depends on the person, says Payne. Some people find a massage or pedicure to be calming, while those activities could actually cause stress for someone who doesn’t enjoy them. Your relaxation technique doesn’t have to be complicated — anything that makes you unwind and feel good will benefit your emotional health.

Here are some relaxation techniques known to help ease depression and anxiety. Try the ones that appeal to you, and discover which ones deliver the most stress relief.

Deep breathing. Deep, slow breathing can help you release anxiety and relax from head to toe. Try it at set times throughout the day or whenever you feel stress building. Combine deep breathing with meditation for even greater relaxation, stress relief, and focus.
Exercise. This is a great relaxation technique, says Payne, and it offers great physical health benefits, too. Yoga is a particularly beneficial therapy because it focuses on meditation, balance, deep breathing, and relaxation all at the same time.
Surround yourself with scents. Some people find certain pleasant aromas very relaxing. Known as aromatherapy, this technique can be as simple as lighting a candle scented with a favorite fragrance.
Take a vacation in your mind. Called visual or guided imagery, this relaxation technique uses your imagination to carry yourself away from daily stress. Picture yourself in a serene, peaceful place that makes you happy. Take time to experience all the sensations in your mind.
Warm up. Treat yourself to a long, luxurious soak in a bubble bath or lose yourself in the steam of a hot shower. Even sipping on a mug of hot coffee, tea, or cocoa can be soothing.
Scribble out your stress. If something’s bothering you and you just need to get it off your chest, a diary or journal can be your best friend. Take a few moments each day — or any time you feel down or stressed — to write about your fears, concerns, or frustrations.

Everyone’s idea of relaxation is different. It doesn’t matter what you do to relieve stress as long as it helps you feel better. Make time each day for a short respite, something that you look forward to and that will leave you feeling more hopeful as you face the rest of your day.

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