Relaxation For Dummies (UK Edition)
Relaxation is a skill. Relaxation doesn’t just mean sitting around watching TV. True relaxation involves activating a specific part of your nervous system which lowers your heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure and makes you feel calm and happy. This is called the relaxation response. To turn on the relaxation response in your body and mind, you need to use a relaxation technique (like deep breathing or guided imagery) or do an activity or hobby that involves using a calm, focused attention (like stroking your dog or painting). Allow this Cheat Sheet to encourage you to relax!
Three Attitudes that Cultivate Relaxation
Regular exercise, spending time with people you like, participating in activities you find fun, being mindful of yourself and your surroundings, laughing, being grateful for what you have, being kind and spending time in nature all reduce your stress and make it easier for you to relax. And relaxation makes you healthier and happier too, so it’s definitely a worthwhile goal to have.
Here are three attitudes to adopt that can help you relax:
Self-acceptance. If you fight with your feeling of stress, you just create more stress. The first step in learning to relax is to accept how you’re feeling right now. You may not like how you’re feeling, which is fine, but if you deny your feeling, you can end up constantly running away from yourself. Acceptance of your present moment experience is the first step towards change.
Self-kindness. Self-kindness or self-compassion is the opposite of self-criticism. Just as you wouldn’t be judgemental of your friend if she’s made a mistake, but give words of encouragement, so you need to do the same to yourself.
If you lost your wallet at a party, say to yourself ‘This could happen to anyone. I’ll be more careful next time’ rather than ‘I’m an idiot. How can I be so stupid?’ Self-kindness helps to turn on your relaxation response, and leads to greater wellbeing.
Self-mastery. Journeying towards greater relaxation needs a clear decision. You need to see that you have to change your life in some way, and then take the necessary action. That action could be in the form of practising regular relaxation techniques, even if it’s just for five minutes a day, or re-prioritising your life so you spend more time doing activities you find relaxing or enjoyable.
The Six ‘A’s’ of Relaxation
Here are six ways you can manage something causing you stress (your stressor). Go through them and choose whichever one (or few!) you feel would work for you to encourage you into relaxation.
Accept the stressors that you can’t change. There’s no point fighting something that’s never going to go away.
Accomplish a healthy lifestyle. Eat well and exercise regularly. Make time for friends and family. Work towards a meaningful goal for you, connect with positive people and remember to allow enough time for sleep.
Adapt the way you see your stressor. See your problems as a challenge, a game, or a chance to learn. Focus on what’s positive about your stressor. Write down any negative thoughts you’re having about the situation, and challenge them. Consider if your stressor will matter in three years. And be grateful. Notice how many things have gone well as you work through this stressor rather than just what’s hard or difficult.
Allow time for relaxation and fun. Make time to do things that you enjoy every day. Have some me time and do a relaxation technique regularly.
Alter your strategies. If relationships are the cause of your stress, communicate to express your feelings without being aggressive. Manage your time well. Break up large tasks into smaller, manageable chucks.
Avoid the stressor. Step away from whatever’s causing you stress in the first place. Learn to say no rather than taking on more work. Stay away from people that frustrate you if possible.
A Quick Way to Relax when Stressed
Sometimes stress may feel as if it’s overwhelming you. Don’t allow it to ruin your day – follow this quick-fix solution to calming down and getting back to feeling yourself again.
Stop if you can. If you’re talking to someone, ask for a few minutes of time out. If driving, pull up somewhere safe.
Close your eyes or just look downwards.
Take a full, deep breath in, allowing your belly to expand as much as you can.
Hold your breath for a few seconds.
Breathe out slowly through your lips. Feel the sensation of your breath. Continue breathing like this for five outbreaths. Then let your breath become natural again.
Visualise yourself in a peaceful, calm and safe place. Pretend you are actually there. Imagine the colours, sounds, smells and how it would feel to be there. Spend about a minute or so doing this.
Feel the physical sensation of your natural breathing for about a minute.