Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Making Use of Relaxation Techniques

This week I’m writing about breathing and muscle relaxation to help with panic attacks and other anxiety issues.

Breathing. Concentrating on your breath helps you relax in the moment and it also helps you to pay attention to your breathing and have better control over it when you’re in an anxiety-provoking situation. If your breathing is relaxed, slow and calm, you will feel less anxiety. Notice how quick and shallow your breathing becomes when you’re nervous. Learn to notice, and therefore control, your breathing by doing the following exercise.

Get into comfortable clothes and find a comfortable and private place to sit or lie down. Take deep, diaphragm breaths. You should feel your stomach go up and down. Breathing through your chest is shallow breathing, which only contributes to feelings of anxiety. Draw your breath in slowly as if you were breathing in the smell of a rose or a lilac. Fill your lungs as completely as you can. Think of yourself as breathing in love and peace. Now slowly exhale. Exhale as slowly as you inhaled. Control your breath so that it doesn’t come out all at once. Think of exhaling as breathing out anxiety, letting go of your worries, pushing them out of your body. Your mind may get distracted. That’s to be expected. Bring your thoughts back to your breathing. Do this for five minutes every day. You can even do this in bed before you get up in the morning or at night to help you fall asleep.

Muscle Relaxation. Just as breathing exercises help you to notice your breath and control it better, muscle relaxation techniques help you to notice where you carry tension so that you can remind yourself throughout the day “Drop and relax shoulders” if that’s where you hold tension. When you are anxious or panicked, your muscles respond by tensing up, and this muscle tension in turn makes you feel even more anxious. Doing these exercises will help you gain control over your bodily reactions to stress.

There are two muscle relaxation techniques I like. The first one you practice in a sitting position. In a comfortable chair, close your eyes. Close out all distractions. Think about each muscle group in turn, starting with the larger muscle groups, one at a time (shoulders, then back, then gluts, then quads), tense each muscle, hold for five seconds and release. Move to the smaller muscle groups--arms, calves, feet, hands, neck, face, eyelids--and do the same thing. Tense, hold, release. This helps your brain understand the difference between tension and relaxation in your muscles.

The second exercise is a good one to do before bed. Lie down in loose, comfortable clothes. Again you will be thinking about each muscle group, one at a time, starting with the larger muscle groups and moving to the smaller ones. Only this time you will not be tensing the muscle. You will concentrate on each muscle group for a full minute, focusing on relaxing the muscle completely. You’ll notice that even after you think you’ve relaxed the muscle, there is still tension there if you keep your concentration on the muscle group for a full minute. As you move to the next muscle group, continue to keep the muscles you’ve already relaxed tension-free. You’ll end with relaxing your eyelids. Notice how your body feels. Notice which muscles it took the longest to relax completely. These are the muscles you need to remind yourself to unclench throughout the day.

When you find yourself becoming anxious, notice your breathing, notice your muscle tension, and practice slowing down your breathing, taking deeper breaths and releasing the tension in your muscles. As you make your body relax, your mind will follow.

Up next Tuesday: Meditation as a Relaxation Technique

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