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Relaxation – tips from the Advice and Counselling Service

The Advice and Counselling Service has put together some useful advice on techniques for helping you to relax.


Relaxation sounds like it’s the sort of thing that should come naturally but in fact many people struggle to notice how stressed they actually feel until things start to go wrong. Even when we recognise we’re feeling stressed we often don’t know what our minds and bodies need in order to relax. Students often tell us that they have stopped a lot of their regular activities in order to focus on their studies and it’s not long before they find themselves feeling more and more stressed. Taking regular time away from studies, exercising regularly, eating well, getting enough sleep and seeing friends are all ways to relax – if you let these activities slide you will feel more stressed.

Although it can seem counter-intuitive it’s actually more important to maintain these relaxing activities and habits during stressful periods, such as exams, or in the midst of deadlines. The key to fitting it all in to your week is to plan revision or coursework thoroughly. To help you do this the university offers help via the Students' Union, academic support within your department and study support through the Learning Development unit. Peer support through the PASS mentoring scheme can also be helpful for first- and second- year students.

Meanwhile here are some simple relaxation techniques you may find helpful:

Quick relaxation techniques

These exercises are all 'quick-release' techniques which can be done almost anywhere.

But first, here are some pointers that apply to all the exercises that follow:

  • Get as comfortable as possible. Some of these exercises can be done at a time when there is nothing to do but wait. They can also be done in the morning, before going to sleep and they are easy to fit into study or work breaks. It is not necessary to lie down to do them.
  • Remain passive. Just watch your mind work. Whatever thoughts come to mind are okay. Do not work at it, just let it happen.
  • Take note of all sounds or distractions in the environment and let them pass.
  • Allow your breath to flow naturally.  

Counting ten breaths backwards:

Allow yourself to feel passive and indifferent, counting each breath slowly from ten to one.

With each count, allow yourself to feel heavier and more relaxed.

With each exhale, allow the tension to leave your body.

Eye fixation:

With your head level and your body relaxed, pick a spot to focus on (eyes are open at this point).

When ready, count five breaths backwards. With each breath, allow your eyes to close gradually.

When you get to number one, your eyes will be closed. Focus on the feelings of relaxation.

Whole body tension:

Tense everything in your whole body; stay with that tension, and hold it as long as you can without feeling pain.

Slowly release the tension and very gradually feel it leave your body.

Repeat three times.

Visual imagery:

Open your imagination and focus on your breathing.

As your breathing becomes calm and regular, imagine that the air comes to you as a cloud - it fills you and goes out. You may imagine the cloud to be a particular colour.

Shoulder shrug:

Try to raise your shoulders up to your eyes.

Hold for the count of four.

Now drop your shoulders back to a normal position.

Repeat three times.

Shoulder rotation:

Rotate your shoulders back, down and around, first one way, then the other.

Do one shoulder, then the other.

Now do both at the same time.

Note: This is also good for back, arms, and neck.

Cat s-t-r-e-t-c-h:

Stand – feet slightly apart.

Take a deep breath as you stretch arms over head.

Slowly exhale as you lean forward, bringing arms and head down (do not do this exercise if you have back problems).

Do slowly and gently five times. 


Alone in a quiet place, get as comfortable as you can.  Then focus on a repeated word or phrase such as "calm" or "let it go," silently reciting it with each exhale. Let other thoughts, feelings and images drift away. Practice for 10 to 20 minute sessions.

Don’t forget about activities and hobbies

A warm bath, good book, or soothing music are excellent ways to counter stress. In fact any hobby which absorbs your undivided attention will help you attain peace of mind.

Look after yourself

Sometimes taking small steps to look after ourselves can make a big difference to our stress levels and our emotional wellbeing. Check out these self-help resrouces.

Also, remember that if you are feeling unable to cope, you can always make an appointment to see a counsellor at the Advice and Counselling Service.



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