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Relaxation techniques page header





Deep muscle relaxation

It is helpful to read the instructions first and then gradually learn them off by heart. Start by selecting quite a warm, comfortable place where you won’t be disturbed. To begin with choose a time of day when you feel most relaxed. Lie down, get comfortable, close your eyes. Concentrate on your breathing for a few minutes, breathing slowly and calmly: in two-three and out two-three. Say the words “calm” or “relax” to yourself as you breathe out. The relaxation exercise takes you through different muscle groups, teaching you firstly to tense, then relax. Starting with your hands, clench one fist tightly. Think about the tension this produces in the muscles of your hand and forearm. Now do the same with the other hand.

Study the tension for a few seconds and then relax your hand. Notice the difference between the tension and the relaxation. You might feel a slight tingling, this is the relaxation beginning to develop. Now do the same with the other hand. Each time you relax a group of muscles think how they feel when they’re relaxed. Don’t try too hard to relax, just let go of the tension. Allow your muscles to relax as much as you can. Think about the difference in the way they feel when they’re relaxed and when they’re tense. Now do the same for the other muscles of your body. Each time tense them for a few seconds and then relax. Study the way they feel and then let go of the tension in them.

It is useful to stick to the same order as you work through the muscle groups:

  • Hands - clench fist, then relax.
  • Arms - bend your elbows and tense your arms. Feel the tension, especially in your upper arms. Remember, do this for a few seconds and then relax.
  • Neck - press your head back and roll it from side to side slowly. Feel how the tension moves. Then bring your head forward into a comfortable position.
  • Face - there are several muscles here, but it is enough to think about your forehead and jaw. First lower your eyebrows in a frown. Relax your forehead. You can also raise your eyebrows, and then relax. Now, clench your jaw, notice the difference when you relax.
  • Chest - take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, notice the tension, then relax. Let your breathing return to normal.
  • Stomach -tense your stomach muscles as tight as you can and relax.
  • Buttocks - squeeze your buttocks together, and relax.
  • Legs - straighten your legs and bend your feet towards your face. Finish by wiggling your toes.

 

You may find it helpful to get a friend to read the instructions to you. Don’t try too hard, just let it happen.

To make best use of relaxation you need to:

  • Practice daily.
  • Start to use relaxation in everyday situations.
  • Learn to relax without having to tense muscles.
  • Use parts of the relaxation to help in difficult situations, e.g. breathing slowly.
  • Develop a more relaxed lifestyle.

 

 Remember relaxation is a skill like any other and takes time to learn.

Click here to listen to a progressive muscle relaxation exercise

 

Controlled breathing

It is very common when someone becomes anxious for changes to occur in their breathing. They can begin to gulp air, thinking that they are going to suffocate, or can begin to breathe really quickly. This has the effect of making them feel dizzy and therefore more anxious. This is called over-breathing, or hyperventilation.

Try to recognise if you are doing this and slow your breathing down. Getting into a regular slow rhythm of in two-three and out two-three will soon return your breathing to normal. Some people find it helpful to use the second hand of a watch to time their breathing.

Other people have found breathing into a paper bag or cupped hands helpful. For this to work you must cover your nose and mouth. 

If you are over-breathing it usually takes at least three minutes of slow breathing or breathing into a bag for your breathing to return to normal.

Click here to listen to a seven eleven breathing technique

 

Distraction

If you take your mind off your symptoms you will find that the symptoms often disappear. Try to look around you. Study things in detail, registration numbers, what sort of shoes people are wearing, conversations. Again, you need to distract yourself for at least three minutes before symptoms will begin to reduce. Whilst relaxation, breathing exercises and distraction techniques can help reduce anxiety it is vitally important to realise that anxiety is not harmful or dangerous. Even if we did not use these techniques, nothing awful would happen. 

Click here to listen to guided imagery


Mindfulness

This is a different approach to managing stress. The goal of mindful breathing is calm, non-judging awareness, allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go without getting caught up in them. The aim is to concentrate only on the present moment, not the past and not the future. Much of our stress is linked to thoughts and feelings about the past and the future. Follow these instructions:

  • Sit comfortably, with your eyes closed or lowered and your back straight.
  • Bring your attention to your breathing.
  • Imagine that you have a balloon in your stomach. Every time you breathe in, the balloon inflates. Each time you breathe out, the balloon deflates. Notice the sensations as the balloon inflates and deflates. Your chest and stomach rising with the in-breath, and falling with the out-breath.
  • Thoughts will come into your mind, and that’s okay, because that’s just what the mind does. Just notice those thoughts, then bring your attention back to your breathing.
  • You can notice sounds, physical feelings, and emotions, and again, just bring your attention back to your breathing.
  • Don’t follow those thoughts or feelings, don’t judge yourself for having them, or analyse them in any way. It’s okay for the thoughts to be there. Just notice those thoughts, and let them drift on by; bring your attention back to your breathing.
  • Whenever you notice that your attention has drifted off and is becoming caught up in thoughts or feelings, simply note that attention has drifted, and then gently bring the attention back to your breathing.

 

Thoughts will enter your awareness, and your attention will follow them. No matter how many times this happens, just keep bringing your attention back to your breathing. The more you can practice this exercise the more it will help you to manage stress.

Click here to listen to a mindfulness of breath exercise

Click here to listen to a compassionate mindfulness exercise