By Lorraine Ireland Of Mind And Health Matters Limited
"What is without periods of rest will not endure" - Ovid
Relaxation is a feeling of having a calm body and mind. It is a natural state of being, that sadly for many people gets dismissed in their hectic lifestyles, where relaxation can feel very alien and self indulgent, as the busy mind reminds you that you have no time to pause – you have much to do and so you carry on regardless – on the never ending treadmill of adrenaline drive. Some can become addicted to the effects of adrenalin (a hormone involved in 'fight or flight') and have problems giving this up. The problem is that the body can not remain on red alert all the time. Eventually, the body becomes exhausted or may suffer physical ill health that forces a review of stress levels/ lifestyle. Feeling stressed is most definitely not pleasant, but, in time, you will discover that the feelings associated with relaxation are far more natural and pleasurable as you remember what relaxation truly is; a technique you can re-learn which can be used in everyday life and within stressful situations, to give you back your self control enabling you to deal with life`s challenges in a much more effective, calmer manner as you create a new habit of choosing relaxation over stress.
There are lots of ways of learning relaxation techniques to relax your mind and body, whether it be through yoga, meditation, guided visualisations, hypnotherapy or self hypnosis. It is really a case of finding what is best for you. What all of these techniques have in common begins with YOU giving yourself permission to take time out to invest in your health and future happiness. It really is just a case of trusting your natural ability that you were born with to let go, and once you’ve done it a few times, it will come naturally from there on and you will wonder why you ever let it go in the first place!
When we learn to relax daily for just 10 - 20 minutes it is so powerful, not only physiologically but emotionally and mentally too. The benefits are so rewarding, from improved immune function and reduced blood pressure, to an increased feeling of inner control giving you a feeling of being in control of the way you think feel and react to your environment.
"For fast-acting relief try slowing down." - Lily Tomlin
Tips for Everyday Relaxation
- Focus on your breathing and choose a positive colour to represent Relaxation and a negative colour to represent Stress. Now just imagine breathing in your positive colour and imagine how different your life would be if you took relaxation into every situation in your daily life, as this colour slows you down and enables you to think more clearly and see things more clearly. On every outward breath imagine breathing out a negative colour representing stress, tension and all that is bothering you – just let it go as it loses all power to affect you in the same way. You can practice this technique at work, whilst in a queue, whilst walking, within a meeting, within the presence of someone you would rather not be with – the opportunities to practice are endless.
- Check your shoulders periodically through the day – do they feel tight like they are tied up to your ears with an invisible string – if so imagine cutting that string, allowing your shoulders to drop back down as far as they will go, imagine all tension draining from your shoulders down into your arms and into your fingers. Shake or imagine shaking your hands and fingers to allow any negative energy/tension to drain away.
- Open your Eyes - Wake Up - Notice pleasurable things around you, however small – notice, things as if you are looking at them for the first time and they have no name or description. i.e. as you look at a tree notice the shape, colours, movement. See things outside of yourself as if you have just come to earth for the very first time. This practice will help you to step outside of yourself and re-connect or awaken to the world that you have been allowing to pass you by whilst you have been permanently living in your own internal world of habitual worrying and tired old repetitive thought patterns that bog you down.
- Whenever you are out and about, tell yourself to slow down . Rushing about, frantically, may achieve little in the long term, except exhaustion. Think your activities through, never allow them just become a haphazard set of events.
- Smiling and laughing produce endorphins, which are a natural good feeling chemically. Sit and turn your lips into a smile and stretch your smile into a huge smile across your face regardless to how false it feels – hold it there until you remember something funny that made you laugh and laugh, and notice how that forced smile turns into a full blown smile as you relive the memory of laughter.
Using regular Relaxation Techniques can help you to:
- Decrease the likelihood of heart attack and stroke. Improve body` s efficiency by decreasing heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate and muscle tension.
- Improve your immune system function
- Aid memory, learning and improve focus / concentration.
- Improve sleep patterns.
- Increase your feeling of control in your environment internally & externally.
- Feel happier, calmer and more energised
- Improve your coping skills
- Think healthier positive peaceful thoughts
The use of guided imagery or Progressive Muscle Relaxation can help to reduce stress and anxiety
"Give your stress wings and let it fly away." - Carin Hartness
Our stress levels are far higher than they were a century ago. That's not because life is 'harder', but because of the type of stressors we have to cope with, as the pace of life has become faster.
With increased stress and the accompanying decrease in relaxation time, comes raised levels of stress hormones (adrenaline & cortisol) within our bodies - Blood pressure rises. Your brain behaves differently affecting memory and healing. Stress hormones are extremely useful in the short-term - if you are attacked these hormones allow you to react in an appropriate manner to the situation – either by fighting or fleeing the situation; but they become toxic in the long-term with continual stimulation, as they suppress your immune system function and interfere with sleep quality. Stress and relaxation are at opposite ends of a scale. Relaxation is the only antidote to stress.
We all experience stress in our daily lives, although the causes and the ways we respond to them will be different for everybody. Stress can be brought on by physical, mental or emotional pressures. Our mental state can be greatly affected by stress, as we become short tempered, irritable, forgetful, experience abrupt mood changes, difficulty sleeping as opposed to the state of relaxation that allows us to be far more easier going, less disturbed by our surroundings and unexpected situations, kinder, more compassionate and happier.
In the minds of medical practitioners around the world there is little doubt that stress is a major cause of many forms of disease. Dis-ease relates to an un-easiness which in turn creates disease.
While it is not practical and near to impossible to remove all of the things that make us worried, anxious and stressed, we can learn ways to help contain/control our stress levels and learn to better deal with anxiety by introducing Relaxation into our lives, as Relaxation will over-ride Stress.
The use of guided imagery and relaxation recordings can help to reduce stress and anxiety.
Jacobson`s Progressive Muscle Relaxation was developed by American physician Edmund Jacobson in the early 1920s. Jacobson argued that since muscular tension accompanies anxiety, anxiety can be reduced by learning how to relax the muscular tension.
Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and relaxing, in succession, sixteen different muscle groups of the body from the feet upwards. The idea is to tense each muscle group as tight as possible in a comfortable manner without hurting yourself for about 10 seconds, and then to let go suddenly, as you experience the muscles becoming limp and slack. You then give yourself 15-20 seconds to relax in between, noticing how the muscle group feels when relaxed in contrast to how it felt when it was tense. When tensing the muscle say to yourself “holding tight”, when relaxing the muscle say “letting go” and feel the tension flow away. (You may wish to add imagery, as you imagine a negative colour to represent the tension in your muscles when you hold tight and when you let go imagine that negative colour draining away and choose a positive calming colour to replace the negative colour that represents relaxation within your muscles). Really focus all of your attention only on the muscle group you are tensing and releasing. The whole process should take around 20 minutes, if a particular group still feels tense – repeat the process for this group. Make sure your surroundings are comfortable.
The entire progressive muscle relaxation sequence should take you 20-30 minutes the first time. With practice you may decrease the time needed to 15-20 minutes. You might want to record the exercises yourself or you may wish to obtain a professionally made recording of the progressive muscle-relaxation exercise. Some people always prefer to use a recording, whilst others have the exercises so well learned after a few weeks of practice that they prefer doing them from memory.
1. RIGHT FOOT – “holding tight” 10 seconds - “letting go” - relaxation 15-20 secs
2. RIGHT LOWER LEG & FOOT - “holding tight” 10 seconds “letting go” - relaxation 15-20 secs
3. ENTIRE RIGHT LEG - “holding tight” 10 seconds “letting go” - relaxation 15-20 secs
4. LEFT FOOT - “holding tight” 10 seconds “letting go” - relaxation 15-20 secs
5. LOWER LEFT LEG & FOOT - “holding tight” 10 seconds “letting go” - relaxation 15-20 secs
6. ENTIRE LEFT LEG - “holding tight” 10 seconds “letting go” - relaxation 15-20 secs
7. RIGHT HAND - “holding tight” 10 seconds “letting go” - relaxation 15-20 secs
8. RIGHT FOREARM & HAND - “holding tight” 10 seconds “letting go” - relaxation 15-20 secs
9. ENTIRE RIGHT ARM - “holding tight” 10 seconds “letting go” - relaxation 15-20 secs
10. LEFT HAND - “holding tight” 10 seconds “letting go” - relaxation 15-20 secs
11. LEFT FOREARM & HAND - “holding tight” 10 seconds “letting go” - relaxation 15-20 secs
12. ENTIRE LEFT ARM - “holding tight” 10 seconds “letting go” - relaxation 15-20 secs
13. ABDOMEN - “holding tight” 10 seconds “letting go” - relaxation 15-20 secs
14. CHEST - “holding tight” 10 seconds “letting go” - relaxation 15-20 secs
15. NECK & SHOULDERS - “holding tight” 10 seconds “letting go” - relaxation 15-20 secs
16. FACE / HEAD - “holding tight” 10 seconds “letting go” - relaxation 15-20 secs
Once you have learned Progressive Muscle Relaxation and are familiar with the feeling of muscle relaxation, you can then induce relaxation naturally any time you choose. All you need to do is use your imagination to think of and then relax the various muscle groups using your cue words “holding tight” then “letting go” and optional (your chosen colours as mentioned above). So, anywhere, anytime, you can simply perform a quick “body scan” to recognise where in your body you might be holding muscle tension and then, using your cue words “holding tight” then “letting go” and imagery (colours) as an optional extra – as you just let go of tension and choose relaxation instead.