Relaxation techniques

Adjusting to life after a heart attack can be stressful. Learning breathing and relaxation exercises can help you to manage stress and anxiety to support your recovery.

Psychologist Marie Young, learning how to relax as part of stress and anxiety management after a heart event.

Practicing deep breathing and relaxation each day will help you to respond better to stressful situations. This can help to lower the amount of adrenaline in your body. This reduces the effects of stress and anxiety.

Releasing tension

We all have parts of our body that carry tension - where do you have yours? Go through the list below and relax your body.

Forehead
Is it creased and frowning, or smooth and relaxed? Push your eyebrows up then let them fall into a relaxed position.

Jaw
Are your teeth tightly clenched? Let them come apart without opening your mouth. Feel your jaw muscle. Is it hard or relaxed? Let it go.

Tongue
Is it up against your front top teeth? Let it lie on the floor of your mouth.

Shoulders
Are they up round your ears, or relaxed? Push them up and then let them fall down relaxed.

Breathing
Is it rapid breathing from your chest, or slow deep breathing from your stomach?

Hands
Are they clenched like fists ready for a fight or floppy and relaxed?

Toes
Are they curled up tight or relaxed?

Deep breathing

Stress, illness and loss of muscle as we get older means that we often start to breathe with our chest. Chest breathing means we take short, shallow breaths that only fill the top part of our lungs.

We do this automatically when we are scared, in pain or exercising hard. When we are fully relaxed we breathe using our stomach or diaphragm. These breathes are longer and slower than chest breathing. They use our full lung capacity. This type of breathing helps our mind and body to relax. Sometimes chest breathing can become a habit.

Chest breathing for long periods can cause problems like:

  • palpitations (your heart rhythm is disturbed)
  • dizziness
  • chest pains
  • poor concentration and memory.

Learning to deep breathe again can help change this habit. Try this deep breathing exercise:

  • Lie or sit in a relaxed position and put one hand on your stomach, near your belly button and put your other hand on your upper chest. Relax your upper chest and shoulders. Now take a gentle breath in by gently pushing out your stomach. Try to keep your chest muscles and shoulders relaxed.
  • As you breathe out, try to relax. You can use your hand to press on your stomach to help a little. Try to keep your chest and shoulders relaxed.
  • Keep doing this for a couple of minutes. Stop if you get dizzy. Don’t take huge breaths. Try and breathe quite slowly.
  • If you find it difficult, you can make it happen by deliberately pushing out your stomach muscles when you breathe IN and relax your stomach as you slowly breathe OUT. Or, you can PUSH your stomach in with your hand as you breathe OUT.

Set aside five minutes, twice a day to practice this to move towards slower, smoother, stomach breathing all of the time.

Try listening to these audio tracks for relaxation and deep breathing exercises to practice.

Exercise can also be a great way to release tension when you’re feel stressed (and it’s a great way to reduce your risk of another heart attack).

Learn about exercise after a heart attack