By Dr Emma, May 8 2016 07:37PM
Just as we need to eat and sleep, we need to take time out to relax in order to function well. Relaxation can help with reducing stress, anxiety and anger levels and help with sleep difficulties.
There are many ways we can relax and here are some examples…
• listening to calm music
• going for a walk
• having a long bath
Whatever the activity, it’s good to allow yourself regular relaxation time throughout the week. It can be helpful to think about your anxiety before and after your activity as a way to review what relaxation exercises work best for you.
Do’s and don’ts of relaxation...
For a person who often feels anxious, relaxation can be difficult at first, as when we stop and focus on our body we are more likely to notice the feelings of anxiety.
It is important to remember relaxation is a skill, we cannot decide to relax and expect instant results, we must practise this and the more we practise the better and the faster we are able to relax. By practising we are even able to relax under stressful circumstances. For this reason it can be helpful to first practise relaxation techniques when we are feeling less anxious and more relaxed, as learning any new skill when we are anxious can make it more difficult.
Also, as with any skill it is important to practise; some suggest choosing two allotted times a day to practise, at least while you are beginning to teach yourself this new skill. For example, in the mornings, midday or before going to bed.
Make sure you are sitting or lying in a comfortable position, and feel free to change positions if needed. Try to find somewhere quiet to relax, somewhere you will not be disturbed by noise, people or phones. Try to make a decision to worry later, after the relaxation exercise and allow yourself to focus on this one task. Do not expect to feel relaxed right away, allow yourself to complete the task without the pressure of trying to monitor how you are feeling.
The importance of breathing correctly…
Often we are rushing about throughout the day and pay little attention to our breathing. When we are under pressure or focusing on tasks we may find ourselves suddenly taking in a deep gulp of air, or sighing deeply – these could be signs you are not taking time to take in slow, deep breaths.
Particularly when we feel anxious it can be helpful to pause and slow our breathing down, this can help us feel more relaxed. But how do we know when we are breathing deeply or shallowly?
When we are breathing shallowly we notice only our chest rise and fall as we breathe in and breathe out. When we take a deep breath we are filling our lungs up completely, this means we should notice our abdomen expand out as we take air in. we can check we are doing this correctly by placing one hand on our chest and one on our stomach to see what happens when we take a shallow or a deep breath in. (NB. We do not need to hold our chest and stomach every time we practise deep breathing, just while we are checking we are doing it correctly).
Once you know the difference between breathing deeply and shallowly you are ready to practise deep breathing. Try to sit (or stand) comfortably, with a straight back and uncrossed legs; close your eyes if you like. Take one deep breath in slowly through your nose, hold this breath for 2 seconds, and then slowly exhale. Repeat this, just spending a few minutes focusing on your breathing.
Take a slow deep breath in – hold for 2 counts – and slowly exhale. And repeat.
I love this relaxation technique as it is short, simple and can be done anywhere without anyone necessarily noticing (you will just look like you are breathing!). For example, after a rush to get onto the tube in the morning, taking a few deep breaths while we hold on to the train handrail can be a good way to relax before getting into work. Or while at work, if something stressful happens we can take a few deep breaths sitting at our desk, standing or walking. No one is going to ask ‘why are you breathing?’
Remember relaxation is a skill – we must train our bodies to become accustomed to it.
Deep breathing is a mini relaxation exercise, however if you plan to practise relaxation techniques two times a day check out these relaxation recordings.