Life is filled with stress. Any disappointment or family dispute may generate stress or a mild degree of anxiety that results in muscle tension, body aches, insomnia and poor concentration. Routinely everyone has to endure worries and stress.
Changes in one’s life are mostly not threatening and they don’t affect the quality of life. Once stress starts it persists as the person is unable to get rid of it completely. Things can easily go wrong when people are under stress. Thus learning to relax will help them to deal with stress more confidently.
Mild degrees of stress may emerge in various situations of our daily life that may include a job interview, performing on stage or a critical test. These are only a few examples of the challenging situations when most people feel a little anxious which is considered normal if it does not result in any harm.
Stress generally responds well to both pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatment. The majority of people who receive treatment experience significant relief from their symptoms. But many people with stress disorders do not seek treatment because they do not recognize their symptoms as a sign of illness or they fear the reactions of co-workers, family members, or friends. Only a few people who are upset by stress learn to manage it through self-help while the majority of sufferers remain upset with the painful emotions.
People under stress are advised to relax. Most of them ask how they should relax. Relaxation is a state of doing absolutely nothing and being at ease and peace. Relaxation exercises are very simple and do not need expensive equipment or a special place. They may take time so people should not feel disheartened if they do not notice favourable changes.
When a person is relaxing, physical, mental and emotional changes take place. Physically body muscles let go of tension, breathing becomes more regular, blood pressure drops, and the heart beats more slowly. Other organs slow down their activity so a person feels at ease.
Mental relaxation results in the return of the ability to concentrate, decision making becomes easier and thinking becomes clearer. Emotionally one feels quieter, calmer and more confident, and able to take life as it comes without overreacting. After relaxation many people find that they can get things back into perspective and the difficulties which they had perceived as huge appear much smaller.
There is one rule in relaxation and that is to find the appropriate time and place. Find only a few minutes, preferably two or three times a day, when you can sit down in a comfortable chair where no one will disturb you. Settle your body into the chair, rest your head on the back of the chair, and put your arms and hands where they are comfortable. Place your feet, a little apart, on the floor.
Now tell your muscles to relax. Either start from the head and go downwards to the toes or upwards from the toes to the head. Concentrate on those areas of the body where you feel tension. Say loudly: “Relax, I am in control.” It is important to spend no longer than a few minutes to do this exercise, and when it is complete sit quietly for few moments and enjoy being still and at ease. Then you can get up and carry on with your routine work.
It is best if you choose particular times for this exercise. Do not worry if you do not achieve much at first, relaxation has to be learned slowly, only a small step at a time. Be gentle to yourself and never put extra burden on yourself that might result in stress. After this try to relax for a few minutes daily at various times, for instance, while having tea in the evening, or as you sit in the car, or are at the library or before going to bed.
Breathing is something that you tend to take very much for granted. From time to time concentrate on your breathing. Just feel it as air enters and leaves your body. Notice the gentle rhythm that comes easily and effortlessly with the action. Now try to slow your breath by taking three or four slow breaths in and out through your nose (or take the breath in from your nose and out from your mouth). Try to breathe in for the same amount of time as you breathe out. As you breathe out let go of the tension, particularly in your jaw, neck, shoulders and abdomen. This is calming and can be combined with walking.
Another exercise that you can do is to breathe in and out and then hold your breath for as long as you can. Notice the space between that breath and the next. Let no strain enter the body, just breathe in again when you feel the need. This will help you control and slow down your breathing for a couple of minutes, and this will also keep all your worries away from you.
Now close your eyes and spend a minute or two noticing your breath entering your body and then leaving it. As you breathe out tell yourself to let go. Do this a number of times, saying to yourself: “Relax, let go”, each time you breathe out. In the same way that you notice your breathing, also begin to notice your feelings and thoughts, but try not to become involved with them.
If you find your attention wandering to some other thing then firmly bring your concentration back to the exercise. Check that your body has not tightened up because of these intrusive thoughts. Never try to judge how well you are relaxing, just enjoy it. No effort is required from your side. If you let go, all your stresses, worries, anxieties and tension will leave your body and mind.
The beauty of the breathing exercise is that you can perform it anywhere, at any time and in any posture. Slowly and gradually as you get better in breathing exercises you will be able to extend them and start using your abdominal muscles to help you control your breathing. Practice this exercise when you feel relaxed and stress free, so that when you feel stressed, with the help of this exercise you will be able to restore peace and calmness almost automatically with minimal effort in only a few moments.
Deep muscle therapy
If you want to learn to relax more deeply then you will need some more time. You should try to practice these exercises twice or thrice a week, but even practising just once a week will also be beneficial. Ideally, you should spend at least 15 minutes with the aim to reach a point when your body feels as though it is hardly a part of you and your mind feels relaxed.
First make sure you are comfortable and that you are not going to be disturbed. The place chosen should be peaceful. Lie down or sit in a relaxing way. If you find background music helpful, play music at a low volume. Relax the muscles in each part of your body working from the head to your toes, or from your toes to your head, paying particular attention to the tense areas.
If you have been practising the simple relaxation exercise you will be able to do this quite naturally. If you feel any muscle to be extra tense then gently stretch them and let them move back into a comfortable position. This will help you to relax even more deeply. With continued practice you will be able to bring on a state of deep muscle relaxation at will.
It should be kept in mind that relaxation is an exercise that needs to be practiced regularly. No one is able to become an expert in relaxation overnight. If you can learn to use only the muscles and energy that is necessary to sit, or to walk, or in any other activity, the rest of your body can relax so that you can preserve more energy.
Breaking the circle
Now be relaxed and think carefully. Do you still find yourself sometimes going round in circles despite all your efforts to calm down and stay cheerful? If you feel everything requires much more effort to cope with. Maybe you are worrying about something or someone that uses up a lot of your energy that results in tiredness, disturbed sleep and decreased appetite.
If you can recognize that this is happening to you then you have made the first important step towards preventing this circle. Now all you need to do is to break the circle and replace it with a good relaxing one. Try the following:
1) First relax your body musculature, start from your shoulders and jaw.
2) Next take a few slow, even, quiet but deep breaths.
3) Feel that you are taking control of the situation, speak loudly, “I am going to control this situation easily and as quickly as possible.”
4) At this moment start feeling yourself become calm, this will result in your increased ability to cope with matters that make you tense.
5) After regaining confidence, you will find that you can do everything to make you more relaxed.
For more deep relaxation you can use your powers of imagination that are a wonderful tool to help you to create feelings of well being. You are probably already pretty good at imagining the worst that can happen, now use the same ability positively to imagine the best possible scenario.
Start by imagining yourself in the most beautiful place where you feel completely calm and totally at ease, this may be your favourite spot, park, garden, zoo, restaurant or somewhere you have visited on your honeymoon or on your holiday.
Try to make the scene as complete as possible, so pay full attention to all the details of colours, shapes, sounds, smells and tastes. Maybe you are sitting near by some water, imagine dipping your hand in it and feeling how cool, hot or fresh it is. Maybe you are on a beach, and you can hear the waves and feel them gently lapping over your feet, and feel the sand between your toes. Maybe you are in a garden, and the smell and sight of flowers is overwhelming.
Work on imagination several times so that it becomes clearer and you become more familiar. Add more details as you get better at using your imagination. Learn to link the images with feelings of calm, comfort, happiness, strength, security, harmony and well being.
Gradually without any effort on your part, your body and mind will relax, and you will feel peace in yourself and with the surrounding environment. With practice the images will come more easily and quickly so that eventually you will be able to transport yourself to this wonderful place instantly and feel yourself relaxing immediately. You will then be able to recreate the feelings that you have in this special place at other times during your daily routine. When you find yourself becoming unnecessarily tense, worried, angry or frustrated you will be able to bring your special place to your thinking and the unhappy feelings will fade away. It really does work. So it is time to start your journey, and let go.