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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Overview of relaxation techniques

Āhua whakatā

Many situations can cause us to feel uptight and tense. There may be specific stresses such as whānau (family) or work problems. You may have other issues such as anxiety or depression.

These can all cause your muscles to tense and your breathing to become faster and shallower.

Muscle tension can cause muscle aches and leave some people feeling exhausted.

Breathing problems can make you feel frightened, light-headed and dizzy. Learning to regain control of your breathing gives you a simple tool to calm yourself and relax when you feel panicky.

Muscle tension

Muscle tension is associated with stress, anxiety and fear. It is part of a process that helps our bodies prepare for potentially dangerous situations. Even though some of those situations may not actually be dangerous, our bodies respond in the same way. Sometimes we do not even notice how our muscles become tense. Progressive muscle relaxation helps us learn to relax our muscles.

Fast breathing

We breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. To run efficiently, our bodies need a balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide. We maintain this balance through how fast and how deeply we breathe.

When we are anxious, we take in more air than our body needs – we over-breathe, or hyperventilate. The body responds with chemical changes. These produce symptoms such as dizziness, light-headedness, confusion, breathlessness and blurred vision. Also, increased heart rate, numbness and tingling in our hands and feet, cold clammy hands and muscle stiffness. We can use a calming breathing technique to overcome this.

Many people who over-breathe do not realise they are doing so. You may not realise that frequent sighing, yawning or audible intakes of air before speech are all signs that you are over-breathing.

Other helpful information


Meditation can help some people to relax.

Meditation groups


Learning how to breathe and relax properly can be very helpful. Some physiotherapists have special skills in relaxation and breathing. Check with your physiotherapist if they do.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

On the next page: Calming breathing techniques

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed November 2023.


Page reference: 102470

Review key: HIRLT-102470