Introduction


Relaxation techniques can be used to calm the mind and alleviate muscle tension caused by feeling anxious. The more you practise, the more you will start to feel the benefits, and it can take some time initially to fully get the hang of them. To prepare for the relaxation exercises:

  1. Find a quiet room away from distractions
  2. Put on loose, comfortable clothing and take your shoes off
  3. Lie down or sit comfortably with your legs uncrossed
  4. Focus on a spot in front of you or lightly close your eyes

You may find that thoughts pop into your mind and it is difficult to relax immediately. This is normal… try to just let these thoughts pass through.

Relaxation technique 1: deep breathing


The following exercise is taken from HelpGuide https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/relaxation-techniques-for-stress-relief.htm. This is a simple yet powerful relaxation technique that only requires a few minutes and space in which to sit or lie quietly.

  1. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
  2. Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise. The hand on your chest should move very little.
  3. Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little.
  4. Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls. Count slowly as you exhale.

Technique 2: progressive muscle relaxation


This exercise is also taken from HelpGuide. Progressive muscle relaxation is a two-step process during which different muscle groups in the body are tensed and relaxed systematically. By practising this technique, you will become more aware of what tension and complete relaxation feel like, which could help you to spot the first signs of the muscular tension that often accompanies stress.

If you have any injuries or conditions that could be made worse by tensing your muscles, please speak to your doctor prior to trying this technique.

  1. Take a few minutes to get comfortable, loosening clothing and removing your shoes. Breathe in and out in slow, deep breaths.
  2. When you’re ready, shift your attention to your right foot. Take a moment to focus on the way it feels.
  3. Slowly tense the muscles in your right foot, squeezing as tightly as you can. Hold for a count of 10./li>
  4. Relax your foot. Focus on the tension flowing away and how your foot feels as it becomes limp and loose.
  5. Stay in this relaxed state for a moment, breathing deeply and slowly.
  6. Shift your attention to your left foot. Follow the same sequence of muscle tension and release.
  7. Move slowly up through your body, contracting and relaxing the different muscle groups.
  8. It may take some practice at first, but try not to tense muscles other than those intended.

This technique can be combined with technique 1 (deep breathing) for additional relief from stress.

Technique 3: body scan meditation


This technique involves focusing your attention on different parts of your body, starting with your feet and working your way up. You are simply focusing on the way each body part feels, rather than tensing and relaxing your muscles.

Technique 4: visualisation


This technique is also called guided imagery and it involves imagining a scene in which you feel relaxed and at peace. This could be a place that you have been to before or it could be a place created in your imagination. Examples are a favourite childhood spot, a tropical beach or a quiet forest. Choose whatever is most calming.

You can either practise visualisation in silence or if you prefer, you could listen to some soothing music or a recording that matches the setting you have chosen. The Headspace app, for example, has lots of soundscapes, from ‘rolling river’ to ‘campfire crackles’.

Close your eyes and imagine your restful place. Picture it as vividly as you can: everything you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. Visualisation works best if you incorporate as many sensory details as possible. For example, if you are thinking about a dock on a quiet lake:

  1. See the sun setting over the water
  2. Hear the birds singing.
  3. Smell the pine trees
  4. Feel the cool water on your bare feet
  5. Taste the fresh, clean air

Enjoy the feeling of your worries drifting away as you gradually explore your calming place. When you are ready, gently open your eyes and come back to the present. It is normal to zone out or lose track of where you at times are during a visualisation session.

This is an example of a scripted visualisation exercise entitled ‘The Private Garden’ from https://www.mirecc.va.gov/cih-visn2/Documents/Patient_Education_Handouts/Visualization_Guided_Imagery_2013.pdf

Allow yourself to get comfortable. Begin with a few slow deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth, letting your body get relaxed. Let the chair fully support your body as you continue to breathe and relax.

Now, use your imagination to picture yourself walking slowly along a path. It’s a pleasant path, any kind that you wish. It’s a beautiful day, and you feel relaxed and happy. You can feel the warmth and energy of the sunlight on your skin. Soon you come to a gate. You know this gate leads to a special place where you feel welcomed, safe, and comfortable. Push the gate open and allow yourself to enter your very own private garden…

Your garden is filled with your favourite things. Whatever is pleasing to you can be found in this place. Perhaps there are flowers, trees, animals, birds, water, or even music. Look around and notice what is in your garden. See all the colours and objects that are in this place. Notice how beautiful they are. Look at the various shapes and see how varied they are… Look at the ground, look at the sky, and see where they meet. Your garden is calm and tranquil. Everything peacefully co-exists in the garden. As you are looking, become aware of how things might feel in this private place of yours.

Begin to explore this place with your sense of touch. Perhaps some things are soft and warm, and others are smooth and cool. Simply spend some time exploring, using your sense of touch as you continue to feel at peace and comfortable.

Notice what the air feels like; is it cool or warm? Is there a breeze or is it still? Take the time to feel the peace and serenity in this private place. As you continue to explore your garden by seeing and feeling, become aware of the sounds that you hear in your garden… The sounds in your garden are pleasing to the ear and very comforting. Perhaps it is quiet in your garden, or maybe there are a number of sounds.

Some of the sounds may be very soft, while others may be louder. Relax and listen for a while and see if you can identify the different sounds in your garden… As you’re listening to the sounds in your garden, become aware of what smells you might smell.

Take a deep breath in, and notice the fragrances that are present. Some of them may be familiar, while others may be unfamiliar. The fragrances are pleasant and soothing. Take your time and enjoy your visit to the garden, using it in whatever way that you wish. Spend the time that is necessary for you to rejuvenate and to care for yourself…

When you are ready to leave, slowly walk back towards the gate of your garden. You have enjoyed your visit to the garden and feel relaxed and content. This good feeling will remain with you throughout the day.

Push the gate open and return to the path that led you to the garden. As you make your way back up the path to the here and now, remember that you can use your imagination to return to your private garden at any time you wish. Visit your garden any time you would like to relax, to be comforted, or just to enjoy its beauty. You are now ready to resume your day. Stretch gently and open your eyes, feeling refreshed and alert.


Technique 5: mindfulness meditation


The aim of mindfulness is to switch your focus to the present moment – what is happening right now, rather than worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. Using mindfulness to stay focused on the present can be quite tricky at first and you will probably find that your focus keeps wandering back to your worries.

Try not to get disheartened because each time you consciously draw your focus back to the present, you are strengthening a new mental habit.

Mindfulness meditation can take various forms. Some practices bring you into the present by focusing your attention on a single repetitive action, for instance, breathing. Other forms encourage you to follow and then release internal thoughts or sensations. Mindfulness can also be applied to activities such as walking, eating or even doing the washing up.

The following simple mindfulness exercise is from https://www.ifarmwell.com.au/what-to-do-in-a-crisis/:

  1. Take a seat
  2. Take three slow, deep breaths
  3. Notice three things you can see (eg. the seat you are sitting on)
  4. Notice three things you can hear (eg. a vehicle in the distance)
  5. Notice three things you can feel (eg. shirt on your back, your boots on the ground) Take another three slow, deep breaths

Eating mindfully involves taking your time and enjoying eating as an experience. The aim is to give your full attention to the process of eating, without the distraction of eating while doing other things, such as watching television. One example of a mindful eating exercise script using an orange can be found here: https://mindfulnessexercises.com/mindful-eating-oranges/

1.As you begin this exercise, eliminate any distractions and focus all of your awareness on the experience.

2.Hold the orange in your hand and examine it. Look at the orange as if you have never seen an orange before. Look at the colour of the orange, feel the texture of the orange. Notice how the skin of the orange is filled with tiny little ‘pinpricks’ and how the orange skin feels against your fingertips.

3.Put the orange up to your nose and smell the aroma of the orange. Put the orange up to your ear and shake it to hear if it makes a sound. Keeping the orange to your ear, gently squeeze the orange with your hand and notice if you hear any sound from the inside of the orange.

4.As you begin to peel the orange notice the sound it makes as you peel it, notice the aroma of the orange growing stronger as it is peeled.

5.If the juice of the orange drips, feel it with your fingertips -- does it feel warm or cold, is the texture sticky or watery? Once you have the orange peeled, look closely at the orange. See the difference in the colour of the inside of the orange in contrast to the skin of the orange. Examine the white fibrous veins of the orange. Notice the divot in the orange where the stem was once attached.

6.As you break open the orange notice the sound it makes as you break it apart into sections. Take one section of the orange and look at it closely. Examine the contrast of the fibrous outer portion of the orange to the smoothness of the inner wedge portion.

7.Watch the spray of juice as you break the section of the orange open. Notice the individual little pulps within the orange section brimming with juice.

8.Slowly bring the orange to your mouth, notice how your mouth begins to water in anticipation and how your hand leads your arm to your mouth. Gently place the orange in your mouth, letting it lie on your tongue first without taking a bite, exploring the feel of the orange in your mouth.

9.Now bite down on the orange and notice the taste of the orange. Slowly begin to chew the orange and notice which side of the mouth it goes to while you chew. Feel how the texture and consistency of the orange changes as you chew it.

10.When you are ready to swallow the orange be conscious of the act of swallowing, try to feel the sensations of swallowing the orange as it moves down your throat and into your stomach.

11.What did you notice about the orange with your senses during this exercise? Were you surprised? Did any memories come to mind during this exercise?