How to use a body scan to manage stress and relax

Written by Alice Porter

Looking for an alternative to meditation? A body scan can help you relax and deal with stress.

Our bodies are often tense without us realising it. Whether you clench your shoulders, grind your teeth in your sleep, or your find that your leg starts to tap whenever you sit down at a desk, stress materialises in so many different physical ways.

This is why it can often be so difficult to sit down and meditate. Clearing your mind and allowing your body to relax can feel impossible after a stressful day. If you find meditation difficult, or you’re looking for something to help boost your practice, a body scan might be just the thing.

“A body scan is designed to help you get in touch with how your body feels,” says Dr Audrey Tang, psychologist, mental health and wellness expert and author of books on mindfulness and resilience. “It not only helps you relax your body in the moment and improve your breathing practice, but it will help you to manage stress better in the future too,” she explains. 

What is a body scan? 

A body scan is a very simple technique designed to help you relax. “It’s exactly what it sounds like,” says Dr Tang. “You simply check in with each part of your body.”

To start, find a quiet place to lie down – Dr Tang recommends lying down to help you fully relax. Then, starting from the top of your body or the bottom, focus on each of your individual body parts in succession. “Ask yourself how it feels and move that body part around,” Dr Tang suggests. Move through each part of your body and spend around 20 seconds focusing on it, breathing deeply as you do.

When should you do a body scan? 

Body scans are often recommended for people who struggle to sleep so a lot of people practise them before they go to bed. But you can also use them at any other time of the day when you feel stressed. “It’s something you can do on a regular basis or as a one off when you feel stressed,” says Dr Tang.  

How can you use a body scan to manage stress? 

A body scan should be a meditative process, allowing you to relax in the moment, as it will stop you from thinking about things that are causing you stress and help you to regulate your breathing. A body scan can also help you to manage long-term stress.

“Once you are comfortable with the regular body scan practice, change it up by tensing and releasing each part of the body as you go through it,” Dr Tang says. “This will help you realise what each part of your body feels like when it is relaxed and when it is tense.”

In future, this will help you understand when you are stressed in other areas of life. It will also help you to figure out the specific ways your body reacts to tension.

How to practise an emotional body scan 

If you’re ready to take your body scan even further, you can try something Dr Tang refers to as an ‘emotional body scan’. “Some people find that parts of their bodies areconnected to their emotions,” she says.

Instead of scanning up and down your body, an emotional body scan gets you to think about a time when you felt a certain emotion and notice where you feel the response to that emotion in your body. “Think about times where you felt happy, angry, confused, nervous and confident and try to focus on how your body reacts to those emotions,” Dr Tang explains.

This will help you figure out which parts of your body function when you feel those emotions helping you to react to them better in future. “Always end on a positive emotion with an emotional body scan,” Dr Tang says, explaining that this is so you aren’t left with negative feelings.

Images: Getty

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