Stress appears to be quite the hot topic these days, as I hear everyone I know recently discussing how stressed they are. Even if you are not stressed at the moment, these may be some good tips to keep in that tool box of yours for the next time you are feeling stressed, and need a little relaxation time.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive Relaxation is the one technique that most people have experienced before doing a meditation for the first time, maybe at the end of a yoga class at your gym, or maybe by a counselor/therapist. Progressive relaxation involves focusing on different muscle groups in an effort to relax them. In some forms, the person leading it may as you to only focus on one area in order to relax it, they may say something such as, “now focus on your forehead, and allow it to relax (this is sometimes also called Applied Relaxation). Feel your muscles get heavier and heavier.” Other forms of progressive muscle relaxation involve tensing the muscle, and then relaxing it. So in the instance of the forehead, one would tense their forehead tightly, and then release it. Often, muscle tension is the first sign of increased anxiety, and it’s also the sign most people don’t notice. Try this muscle relaxation later tonight, and see if you were surprised by how tense certain muscles were. Try this video below (note, about the first minute is another brief description of muscle relaxation):
Autogenic Muscle Relaxation
Autogenic Muscle Relaxation is another form of guided (either by self or someone else) leading to relaxation. What’s different in autogenic relaxation, is that it involves more imagery, and the idea of heaviness and/or warmth as you address each muscle group. As you focus on relaxing each muscle group, you may also state, “my arm is heavy, my arm is warm”. After focusing on your arm being heavy and warm, you may imagine placing your arm into a stream of warm running water. To try out autogenic relaxation, check out this video below
Many people hear meditation, and think of a monk sitting in a monastery somewhere, saying, “ohm” with their eyes closed for hours upon hours. While, yes, this can be one picture of meditation, it’s not the only one. Meditation is sometimes difficult to start, and cannot be done, until you are fully able to relax all your muscles. If after progressive or autogenic muscle relaxation you are still not able to relax all of your muscles, I suggest waiting until you are to give meditation a try. Meditation is also a bit more cognitive, and trains us to slow down the racing thoughts we may have throughout the day. It is not only helpful for stress, but for depression, OCD, ADHD, and chronic pain.
The idea behind mindfulness is focusing attention. Throughout the day we let our ideas run wild, and we chase them. Mindfulness involves just being aware, and noticing our surroundings, and what thoughts pop into our heads. We do not chase the thoughts down, or try to hold on to them. Just enjoying the current moment you are in, and focusing only on the present. It helps to imagine thoughts being represented as a cloud in the sky, that with each breath, floats a little further by. Eventually, meditation can be done alone, and not guided. If you would like to try a guided meditation, check out this other video below. With meditation being one of my favorite subjects, I do not go into too much detail here, but expect to see a post on this in the future!
Many therapists like using guided imagery in their sessions. It not only helps us to relax, but can sometimes help us take a little bit of a look into our thoughts and how we view them. It calls upon ideas of meditation and progressive muscle relaxation, although it involves imagery and little bit more thinking. Different “scripts” of muscle relaxation will use different scenes and places, and sometimes the therapist will ask you to imagine your favorite place, or a place you’d like to go. When one is stressed, they can step back from the situation for a minute or so, and in essence, visually go back to this ‘happy place’ to induce feelings of relaxation.
What’s the benefit?
As you may have read in one of my past articles on stress, Can Work Make You Sick or Be Happy and Save Your Heart, any way we can find to reduce stress will greatly benefit our physical health. It not only helps ward off anxiety and depression, but has been shown to reduce heart rate, blood pressure, etc. It also gives your fight/flight response a chance to just take a break! It’s tiring to be stressed out all day. On that note, with the weekend approaching, find 10 minutes to relax, and allow the stresses of the week to melt away. Please share any relaxation techniques you have found helpful, or any thoughts on the relaxation techniques mentioned here.
How to apply these techniques
Most client’s like to implement these techniques before they go to bed. We often find that right before bed is when anxiety tends to set in. This is usually because it’s our only “down time” during the day, and because we are less busy, our “mind chatter” and racing thoughts set in. Once you are able to do muscle relaxation on your own without being gudied, maybe check in with yourself every hour, and try applying this relaxation to see where your body is tense.
So… when do you like apply these techniques, and how do you do it? Which one works best for you?
- Relaxation Techniques For Stress Relief ( )
- Meditation: Take a Stress-Reduction Break Wherever You Are (Mayo Clinic)
- Feeling Anxious? 5 Scientifically Proven Relaxation Techniques (Psyblog)
- How to Reduce Stress: 10 Relaxation Techniques to Reduce Stress On the Spot (WebMD)
Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.