WHY RELAXATION IS HELPFUL
- When we are stressed, the muscles in our bodies tense up and this muscular tension causes uncomfortable bodily feelings, such as headaches, backache, tight chest and so on.
- These aches and pains of tension can cause mental worry, making it was even more anxious and tense.
- People who are tense often feel tired.
- Relaxing slows down the system in the body that tends speed up when we get anxious.
- If we can learn to turn on the bodily symptoms of relaxation we can turn off the symptoms of tension. They are two sides of the same coin; you can’t experience feelings of relaxation and tension/ anxiety at the same time.
RELAXATION IS A SKILL
The ability to relax is not always something which comes naturally, it is a skill which has to be learnt. The following exercises are designed to help you learn to relax. The first exercise is quite long and you may have to practice, practice, and practice to carry out the routine. We also suggest a timer as well and that you start with 2-3 minutes and then build up to 5-10 minutes.
When you are able to relax using the exercise you can begin to start to play with the length of time and possibly even shorten the routine. This should be done gradually, but over time you should be able to learn to relax at will and as you need it.
- Decide in advance when you are going to practice; in this way you can better develop a routine which you can stick to. Make time for yourself.
- Make sure you choose somewhere quiet to exercise, and make sure that no one will disturb you during your practice.
- Don’t attempt your exercise if you’re hungry or have just eaten, or if the room is too hot or too cold.
- Adopt a passive attitude, that is, do not worry about your performance or whether you successfully relaxing. Just “have a go” and let it happen.
- Read through your nose, using your stomach muscles. Breeze slowly and regularly. It is important, but you do not take a lot of quick deep breaths as this can make you feel dizzy or find and even make your tension worse. When you place your hands on your stomach, you will feel the movement of you breathing properly. Try this out before you exercise, to make sure you are used to the feeling.
PROGRESSIVE MUSCLE RELAXATION EXERCISE.
Sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Relax yourself to the best of your ability. Consider the various muscle groups at one time, and aim to learn the difference between tight and relaxed muscles. Concentrate on the feeling in the muscle as it goes from tight to loose. Perhaps practice first by squeezing the hand and then releasing it. What does it feel like? How does it make you feel moving from one state to another? Explore the sensation and the feeling.
HAND AND ARMS.
Clench your fists, and tense your arms; feel tightness in your hands and arms, then slowly relax them. See how far they will go, but do not push. Do not hold on at all; let everything go.
Hunch your shoulders, and then gradually let them settle down. Proceed as above.
Pull your eyebrows together, then gradually let your forehead smooth out.
Screw your eyes up tight, then gradually let them smooth out, leaving your eyes closed, feel your eyeballs sink, and your eyelids droop. Let them get really heavy.
Bite your teeth together, then gradually ease off, and let your jaw get heavy.
BACK OR NECK.
Pull your chin forward on to your chest, feel tightness, then relax.
FRONT OF NECK.
Pull your head back, feeling tightness, then relax.
Slow and steady, letting yourself go each time you breathe out.
Pull in your tummy tight, then gradually let it go feeling it relax.
Push your heels down hard against the floor, feeling the tightness in your thighs, and gradually let them go.
Point your toes, then gradually let that tightness go. Let everything go, further and further, and think about a really relaxing scene, for example, lying in the grass by a river, under a warm sun and a blue sky, or sitting by a fire in a big , comfortable chair. Feel yourself getting heavier and heavier.
In summary, this is a form of ‘body scan’ that is often used in meditation and mindfulness practice. It is a great grounding technique and can help you become aware of bodily sensations and how the body is both connected to but also separate from the mind. It helps you start to explore sensation, thought and feeling playfully.
And once you can tell the difference between tension and relaxation, you should be able to notice more quickly when your body is getting tense. When this happens, this should be your cue to try any of the following techniques of ‘cued relaxation’.
- Relax a particular area of your body feels tense. Tighten the muscles and then relax. Think about that muscle and how it tightens, softens and then relaxes.
- Drop your shoulders down in a sideway direction, widening the space between your ears and your shoulders
- Repeats a sound or words which you find relaxing, for example the word “calm” or say to yourself “I’m going to relax my body, I feel it getting heavier and more relaxed.” This is sometimes called a mantra
- Gaze at a fixed object in the room, such as a picture or ornament. Choose one that you particularly like, and stare at it with a gentle gaze. Don’t strain just look at it.
- Think of an image in your mind that you find particularly calming and soothing and imagine yourself there, i.e. laying on the deserted beach or floating on an inflatable mattress floating on the blue azure sea.
- Breathe through your nose and become aware of your breathing. As you breathe use the mental device listed above (No 5). Breathe easily, slowly, and naturally.
This advanced technique is a further development of the meditation/ mindfulness practice and is something that can provide a solid framework to reduce levels of anxiety. What must be remembered is that ALL of this is touched with a light and gentle approach. Don’t try and force anything because part of anxiety comes from forcing things. Just let the body and mind be for a while.