Stress is not just in the mind!
Stress can affect us physically as well as emotionally. It can trigger a whole series of negative biochemical changes within our bodies.
Relaxation can reverse this series of negative changes within our bodies.
- Reduce breathing rate
- Reduce stress hormones
- Reduce muscle tension and chronic pain
- Reduce fatigue
- Reduce heart rate
- Reduce blood pressure
- Improve digestion
- Improve immunity
- Improve blood sugar levels
- Improve concentration
- Improve mood
- Improve sleep quality
- Minimise practice of stress-related habits (e.g. smoking, drinking) which have negative health effects
How to practice relaxation techniques
Whichever technique you choose, it is best to practice it at least every day. Some do require a little time (e.g. meditation and self-hypnosis), but if you are suffering from stress it is important to find some time to practice. Some of my clients practice relaxation twice per day for 30 minutes, and this certainly enables them to remain calm when faced with potentially stressful situations. However – you do not need to spend an hour per day on practising relaxation.
Even 5 minutes practice per day has been found to be helpful if you are starting out, and later on (once you have seen the benefits) most experts recommend at least 30 minutes per day initially for maximum results.
Later on, when you are generally more relaxed, you will probably find that you can relax quickly (e.g. in two to three seconds) using the methods which you have learnt if faced with a stressful situation. In addition, as some techniques are invisible (e.g. 7:11 breathing) and can be practiced when you are with people, it is easy to use them in your life.
Types of relaxation techniques
If you wish, you can attend classes or one-to-one sessions with health professionals such as complementary health practitioners, doctors and psychotherapists to learn various relaxation techniques. But if you prefer, you can also learn some relaxation techniques on your own.
In general, relaxation techniques involve refocusing your attention on something calming or internal to your body (e.g. your breathing, the pressure of the floor on your feet, or the pressure of the chair on your body). You can also focus on calming external objects such as nature (e.g. trees, flowers) or other objects such as pictures. This breaks the cycle of stressful thoughts.
Relaxation techniques include:
- Progressive muscle relaxation / ‘body scan’. In this, you can visualise your muscles, starting at your feet, and relaxing each muscle in turn (e.g. feet, lower legs, upper legs…) until you reach your head. If you are not used to relaxing in this way you may need to repeat the exercise a few times, starting at your feet again and working up to the top of your head. You may wish to start at your head and work down to your feet instead.
- Tensing and relaxing muscles. This is similar to the previous exercise, but in this case you tense and relax each muscle group in turn (e.g. scrunch your toes up, then relax them, repeat with your calf muscles, and continue doing this all the way up to your head). This exercise highlights the difference between relaxation and tension which can be useful for some people who are currently finding it difficult to relax.
- Imagination. This involves using all of your senses to imagine that you are in a very restful place. This can be a place where you have visited (e.g. perhaps somewhere where you had a very pleasant holiday), or alternatively an enjoyable place that you have invented in your imagination. You can use all of your senses – visualise what you would see around you, and hear what you would hear. You can include touch by thinking of the air temperature in your imagined place, and how this would feel on your skin, as well as e.g. the feeling of the ground (if walking) or the chair (if sitting). You can even include taste if appropriate – e.g. the taste of salty air at the seaside, or the taste of food. Lastly you can include your sense of smell. You could be at a beach (aroma of sea air), or in a nature reserve (aroma of trees and flowers).
- 7:11 breathing. This involves breathing in while counting to 7, and out while counting to 11, and continuing for a few minutes. If you find that 7 and 11 do not suit your breathing rhythm, then you can choose other numbers. The important aspect is to make sure that your out-breath is longer than your in-breath. This signals to your mind that your current situation is not stressful, as this is the breathing rhythm used when we relax. It also helps ensure that we have the correct amount of oxygen in our body by ensuring that we do not over-breathe. Some of my clients even use this when they are walking – e.g. walking to work from the car park, or walking to their boss’s office for a meeting. They simply keep their breathing in pace with their steps.
As I stated at the beginning of this article, practice is important. Please do not be put off by the time it may take initially to become relaxed. It does become much quicker with practice – e.g. after a while you may be able to relax in a few seconds.
Some people find that practising relaxation makes them more anxious. If this applies to you, please do not persevere and cause yourself distress. Instead, you may wish to contact a health professional to receive some support.
If you would like more help with relaxation, or simply wish to find out information about possible hypnotherapy sessions, please give me (Lisa) a call on 0403 932311. We can have a chat to help you decide if I am the best therapist for you – with no obligation.