We’re coming off a bitterly fought election. We’ve slogged through the holidays. And now it is a new year. These situations all lead to plenty of stress—and probably a lot of restless sleep—now, and maybe in our future. Instead of white-knuckling it, consider trying my five favorite relaxation practices to help you manage stress and anxiety, and sleep better.
1. Autogenic training
Autogenic training (AT) isn’t particularly well known. That’s a shame, because it is an effective, accessible method for reducing stress and improving sleep. AT uses a series of exercises to focus the mind’s attention to specific physical sensations of the body, in order to relax both mentally and physically. Autogenic training focuses the mind on cultivating sensations of warmth and heaviness in different regions of the body. These exercises use both visual imagery and verbal cues to relax physically as well as to quiet and calm one’s thoughts. The exercises are most effective when practiced regularly, and you can use these techniques to manage stress throughout the day. Incorporating autogenic training into your nightly power-down routine can help you prepare the body and the mind for sleep.
Biofeedback techniques collect information about the body that alert you to stress and allow you to take steps to relax, mentally and physically. Biofeedback works through sensors that track and measure different physical functions, including:
- Heart rate.
- Body temperature.
- Muscle contraction.
- Sleep stages.
These physiological processes provide important signals about stress levels. Rapid breathing, sweaty palms, and an uptick in heart rate are common signs of anxiety. Biofeedback, by bringing attention to these physical manifestations of stress and anxiety, gives you the chance to deal with that stress using other relaxation strategies. There is a booming business in providing biofeedback through mobile and wearable devices. Many wearable trackers can deliver information about stress and emotions, as measured through biofeedback. Of course, tracking on its own can’t relax you—but it can make alert you to signs of stress so you can take focused, self-aware steps toward relaxation, whether in the middle of an active day or as you prepare for sleep.