Last reviewed 12 July 2013
by Val Moore
Everyone feels anxiety, anger or stress at times. Learning relaxation techniques that can be used in these situations will have a beneficial effect on yourself and those around you.
The various techniques need practice, but once mastered, can be used wherever you are.
Deep muscle relaxation
Deep muscle relaxation is a system of tensing and relaxing sets of muscles until the body is totally relaxed. Practised in a warm and quiet place, it is very good for relieving tension and once mastered, deep muscle relaxation can be used even when standing. It is also helpful to aid sleep.
It is not always easy in busy family lives to find a warm and quiet place where you will not be disturbed, but persevere.
Lie on your back or sit in a comfortable supportive chair — be comfortable and close your eyes.
First, concentrate on your breathing — breathe slowly and calmly. On breathing out, say to yourself “relax”, “be calm”, “unwind” or similar words that you are happy with.
Now work on each group of muscles, tensing them as much as possible and then fully relaxing them. Breathe in when you tense muscles, breathe out when you relax.
It is useful if your nails are not too long. Clench your right hand tightly as you breathe in. You will feel your forearm muscles tense. Relax your hand as you breathe out. Repeat with your left hand.
With your right arm bend the elbow and bring your arm up towards your shoulder, tense the muscles, and again while breathing in. Relax the elbow taking it back to its original position as you breathe out. Repeat with your left arm.
Push your head back as hard as is comfortable. Roll your neck slowly from side to side. Relax.
This is in three parts.
Frown and lower your eyebrows and hold it for a few seconds then relax.
Raise your eyebrows, hold it for a few seconds then relax.
Clench your jaw, hold for a few seconds then relax.
Take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, then relax and breathe normally.
Tense your stomach muscles as tight as possible — hold and relax.
Squeeze the cheeks together as tightly as possible — relax.
With your legs flat:
bend your feet and toes upwards towards your body, hold and relax
bend your feet and toes downwards, away from you, hold and relax.
Repeat this routine three or four times, on a daily basis. You should feel the difference — how the muscles feel when relaxed compared with when the muscles are tensed. With practice, you will be able to do this “in your sleep” and have an effective relaxation technique. Again with practice, it is possible to use some of these techniques (perhaps the hands, neck, chest and buttocks routine) surreptitiously while standing up or sitting, to reduce tension and stress in tiring or difficult situations.
Deep breathing exercises
Many people have a tendency when anxious to breathe faster and thus breathe more shallowly than normal. This can sometimes make them feel dizzy, which becomes a cycle of making them feel more anxious and thus breathing even faster. This is known as “upper chest breathing”. Some people, indeed most people, will breathe this way at least part of the time without ill-effect, but you should train yourself to breathe properly.
Breathing properly and fully means breathing from the diaphragm — the muscle underneath the lungs. The diaphragm is the muscle that moves when you cough.
To check how you breathe:
sit upright and look straight ahead — it may help if you close your eyes
rest your left hand over your navel and your right on your chest
Which hand raises first when you breathe?
If your right hand, on your chest, rises first you are using upper chest breathing.
If your left hand rises first then you are breathing with your diaphragm.
If both hands rise at the same time, then you are using a little of both.
Practise deep breathing using your diaphragm
Practise these deep breathing exercises when relaxed and you should then be able to use them when you are in a situation where you feel tense, stressed or anxious. They take just two or three minutes.
Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose. Breathe out through your mouth. The breath out should be twice as long as the breath in.
Breathe in — on a slow count of “one”.
Breathe out — on a slow count of “two” and “three”.
Relax your shoulders and upper chest muscles when you breathe; on breathing out; consciously relax those muscles until you are using your diaphragm to breathe — check by using the exercise above.
A one-minute stress buster
Occasionally we need a “quick fix”. Visualise breathing in blue, clear, calming air and expelling black angry air. The black angry air is taking away the stress and anger so you regain your equilibrium.
We all need a cocoon occasionally to make us feel safe. Once relaxed, recall an image when you felt relaxed, safe, and warm. Perhaps on a holiday beach with blue skies, puffy white clouds and the gentle slap of the sea against the sand. Imagine the enveloping cuddle of love, in a warm conservatory when the wind and snow whistled outside. See yourself as part of this vision.
Hold this vision and then wrap a clear, but indestructible bubble around you and the memory. Relish it.
For those times when perhaps you have had less than a perfect day — I find it works!
Picture yourself near a stream.
Birds are softly chirping in the cool mountain air.
No one but you knows this secret place.
You are in total seclusion from the hectic place called “the world”.
The soothing sound of a gentle waterfall fills the air with a cascade of serenity.
Bubbles slowly float to the surface, creating a gentle gurgling sound.
The water is crystal clear.
You can easily make out the face of the person you’re holding underwater.
See? You feel better already…a smile a day keeps tension away!