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Relaxation techniques for anxiety when living with visible difference

Everyday situations can cause anxiety if you have a visible difference, but practising these relaxation techniques could make a big difference.

If your body is frequently on “high alert” or you feel anxious in certain situations because of your visible difference, you can use relaxation techniques to help you control the symptoms.

Everyday situations can cause anxiety if you live with a visible difference – and this can make day-to-day life hard. Learning how to relax will help you gain control of your feelings and lessen those unpleasant, distracting sensations.

On this page, we introduce some relaxation techniques for anxiety which you can practise on your own, and share a series of audio relaxations especially recorded for Changing Faces.

What are the benefits of relaxation techniques?

If you live with a visible difference, you may find yourself on edge a lot of the time – often because of anxiety about the judgements or scrutiny of others around you.

Relaxation helps tackle the physical symptoms of anxiety by slowing your heart rate, calming your breathing and lowering your blood pressure. It also helps relieve your mind of stress and worry, diverting you away from your anxieties by focusing your mind on something else for a while.

Relaxation can help you sleep better and improve your overall wellbeing.

Using relaxation techniques for anxiety

Relaxation is a skill – and like any other skill it takes practice. It might feel unnatural at first and you may feel a bit unsure or silly but stick with it and see if you notice any changes.

You can use relaxation techniques whenever you feel nervous or on edge. However, it can also help to build relaxation into your daily life to improve your general wellbeing and manage anxiety before it takes over. Over time, your body and mind will get more used to being relaxed – and less used to being anxious.

Identify what helps you relax

To choose the right relaxation techniques, start by identifying what helps you relax. This will be individual to you, so as you go about your day, take notice of what you find relaxing. For example, some people find that reading, watching TV or taking a bath helps them relax.

Physical exercise is another way to relax. Exercise puts the adrenaline in your body to good use! It also tends to focus your mind on the task in hand, diverting you away from your worries. Some people find yoga helpful for both body and mind. Others prefer more aerobic sports, such as dancing or running.

Different ways to relax

There are many types of relaxation techniques for anxiety to try on for size. Here are some well-known examples:

  • Breathing exercises: A short breathing exercise can help you to feel calm in a short space of time – as well as being a useful, regular relaxation technique. See below for an example.
  • Mindfulness: A type of meditation which encourages you to focus on the present, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.
  • Visualisation: A type of meditation that involves bringing your mind to a place where you feel calm and relaxed – such as somewhere you visited on holiday or a favourite place of calm, like a park or your garden.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation: Involves tensing and relaxing muscles to release tension. See an example of this below.

What if I have pain or am restricted in certain parts of my body?

If you live with a visible difference, you may experience discomfort, restriction or pain in parts of your body. You might wish to avoid relaxation techniques which focus on these parts of the body, or you could adapt the exercise so that it does not cause problems. If you’re worried, always seek advice from your doctor before starting a new exercise.

Here are some ways you can adapt relaxation techniques:

  • If you have difficulty breathing in through your nose, breathe through your mouth instead.
  • If you feel anxious about breathing exercises, try a visualisation exercise instead.
  • If you struggle to sit, try standing or lying down in a more comfortable position.
  • If you experience discomfort in a part of your body, focus on other areas and leave that area out.
Julie, who has alopecia, against a blue background, looking off camera

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Two relaxation techniques for anxiety for you to try

Here are two different techniques for you to try out if you are feeling stressed or nervous because of your visible difference – or any other reason:

#1: Breathing exercise

You can do this breathing exercise standing, sitting or lying down.

  1. Keep an open posture. Place your arms at the side of your body, or rest them on the arms of your chair with palms facing up.
  2. If you are lying down, straighten your legs out or bend them with your feet flat on the floor.
  3. Start by letting your breath flow naturally, breathing deeply but without forcing it. Find your rhythm for a minute or so.
  4. If you can, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  5. Breathe in gently for a count of five.
  6. Breathe out gently for a count of five.
  7. Continue this for three to five minutes.

Tip: If you struggle with five seconds, reduce down to a count of three.

#2: Progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) involves tensing and relaxing muscles in different parts of your body in a sequence.

Follow these steps to complete the exercise, using the second list for the sequence of muscles:

  1. Get into a comfortable position and slow your breathing down to a natural rhythm for a couple of minutes.
  2. When you are ready, start by tensing each area, following the order listed below.
  3. Be careful not to tense so much that you cause stress or pain. You need to feel tension, but do not strain.
  4. Keep the muscle tense for five seconds.
  5. Relax the muscle, and slowly move on to the next one.

Follow this order:

  1. Hands and forearms: Make a fist with each hand.
  2. Upper arms: Touch your shoulder and tense the area in your bicep.
  3. Forehead: Raise your eyebrows as high as you can and scrunch up your face.
  4. Eyes and cheeks: Squeeze your eyes shut.
  5. Mouth and jaw: Open your mouth as wide as you can.
  6. Neck: If sitting or standing, gently tilt your head to look up, slowly bring your head back down, and then forward. If you are lying down, turn your head gently from side to side.
  7. Shoulders: Bring the shoulders up to your ears, hold and release.
  8. Upper back: Push your chest out so your shoulder blades feel like they are touching.
  9. Hips and buttocks: Squeeze your buttock muscles together.
  10. Upper thighs: Tighten the muscles in each thigh.
  11. Lower leg: Very slowly pull your toes towards you to stretch your calf muscle.
  12. Feet: Curl your toes downwards.

Finish by breathing in your natural rhythm for a couple of minutes.

Use our audio relaxations

We have put together a set of relaxation and mindful breathing techniques to help you manage any appearance-related worries or anxieties. These sessions were recorded especially for Changing Faces by Julie, a trained clinical hypnotherapist. She has a diploma in child mindfulness and is a member of the British Society of Clinical and Academic Hypnosis. The audios were developed with a particular focus on teenagers and young adults but include helpful techniques for people of all ages.

Session 1: An introduction to mindful breathing and relaxation

In this first, 10-minute session, Julie begins the series by introducing some simple breathing and muscle relaxation techniques.

Aimed at: Age 10 upwards (including adults)

Session 2: A guided visualisation relaxation session to help build positivity

A 15-minute session to help you switch off and reset positive thoughts.

Aimed at: Age 16 upwards (including adults)

Session 3: A guided visualisation relaxation session to help build confidence and mindfulness

An 18-minute session to help you relax your muscles and find a safe, calm space where you can switch off.

Aimed at: Age 10 upwards (including adults)

You can find many relaxation techniques for anxiety online, on YouTube, in mobile apps (such as Headspace or Calm) and in the shops. You may not have much experience of these – but try different techniques a few times and find out what works best for you.

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An online self-guided tool to help adults with a visible difference learn new skills and gain more confidence in their appearance. (External site)