Stress, Muscle tension, Everyone says, “Relax.” But how do you do it? There are many effective techniques. The important thing is to find one that works for you and that you will do regularly.

The simplest form of relaxation is deep breathing. If you breathe with your diaphragm (a muscle under your lungs), you will feel your belly expand when you inhale. When anxious, people often breathe just with their lungs (causing only their chests to expand), in a more rapid and shallow fashion. It is much more relaxing to breathe slowly and deeply. Breathe in slowly to the count of three (“one-one thousand, two-one thousand…”), and then out to the count of three. Practice this for five minutes a day, and you’ll have a great tool to calm yourself during tense moments.

For a more in-depth approach, consider progressive muscle relaxation. First, find a place free of noise and distractions. (This step may be more difficult than the relaxation itself.) Wear loose, non-restrictive clothing. Find a comfortable place to lie or recline. Next, close your eyes and notice whether you feel tension anywhere in your body. Starting with your head and slowly working your way down, simply notice any tension and let it go, like releasing air from a balloon. Let your body sink into the chair (sofa, etc.). If you find it difficult to release tension, try tensing the muscle (e.g., clenching your fist) and then relaxing it; alternating tension and relaxation can make it easier to tell what a relaxed muscle feels like.

Another approach is meditation. Choose a word you like such as “peace” or “calm,” and say it silently to yourself each time you exhale. Practice this ten to twenty minutes once or twice a day. As with all of these techniques, if you have distracting thoughts (e.g., your list of chores or your next meal), gently push them aside, remind yourself, “It’s my time to relax,” and refocus on your chosen word or technique.

If you practice relaxation regularly, you may feel less overwhelmed by stress and more able to cope with life’s daily challenges.