How Do We Relax? - - The News for South Mississippi

Dr. James Rusch

How Do We Relax?

How do we relax? Specifically, what are the techniques that people use to relax?

Becoming anxious is normal. To some it is a occasional problem and to others, the problem may be too much. The techniques to relax are simple, very basic and quite effective, but in order for them to work though, you have to do them. Best of all, they can help you relax without your needing to take any pills.

When I ask people how they relax, the most common response is to get busy. They speak of doing one thing or another to distract themselves from their thoughts, preoccupations, and worries. Unfortunately at some point in their day, they have to stop being busy, and when they stop being busy, their thoughts seem to come right back again. So, for a relaxation technique to work, it has to be a way that doesn't use distraction.

There are many ways to relax. This is a way I've found to be effective for myself. It consists of doing several things, if you do these together then the overall technique can work. When I helping people to learn how to relax, I ask that they work on three area. These three areas are “feeling safe,” quieting the mind, and active relaxation.

The first is to assure themselves that they are safe. At this point, there is nothing threatening them. It is important that they have a sense of “being okay.” Without this, the mind will keep searching for something to do to improve its current state. One has to feel that there is nothing else that they have to do. It is important to give relaxation your undivided attention as you are practicing these techniques. I use the term "practice" because these skill won't make you relax. They only put you in the situation where you can relax. If there is somewhere else you'd rather be, these skill won't be as effective. You need to feel you are okay; that there is nothing you have to do at this point in time to feel complete. It is important to accept how you are at this instant, and not with an “if only, I get...” thought. You need to feel safe, okay, and not busy with thoughts of something that needs your attention or needs to be changed.

The next thing, that I ask of someone wanting to relax, is that they stop their mind from thinking and focus their attention on their senses. It is difficult to impossible to relax when your mind in busy. Your mind needs to become quiet. It won't become quiet if you have a problem that you want resolved and of course, the mind doesn't like to do nothing. So in order to relax, you have to give your mind something to do. This is to focus your attention on your senses or to count slowly to yourself as you practice slow deep breathing exercises. It seems the mind can only focus on one state or the other- It can be primarily concerned with your senses or it can think. So, it is important to clear your mind of all thoughts.

The final area that helps one to relax is to practice active relaxation techniques. These are deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and other related techniques. The first physical action in this relaxation technique is to take a single deep breath. Many refer to this as a clearing or cleansing breath. You may have noticed that one of the first things anyone does when they get out of a stressful situation is to take a deep breath- this is referred to as a sigh.

Next, all your breaths need to be slow and deep. Moving from breathing all your air out as best you can, and then to take as deep a breath as possible. Now take a deep breath or two. If you feel faint, lightheaded, or a tingling, then you may be breathing too deep, too quickly. Keep breathing deeply, just at a slower rate. Your breathing needs to be regular and at a slow rate. To do this I recommend counting silently to yourself. Use a slow count, possibly in rhythm to your heart beat if you can perceive it. Initially you should say to yourself "breath in, two, three, four, five, breath out, two, three, four, five." After a few breaths you can slow the counting rate down or move to a count to seven, eight, or ten counts per breath.

Breathing is actually a little more difficult then we give it credit for. Often, when I start to describe the process of breathing, patients will stop me and say, “I know how to breath,” but many are unaware that breathing take two separate actions. One is the upward and outward movement of the ribs and chest. The second is the downward and outward movement of the belly. Often, people with respiratory problems will do just the opposite movements of their belly when they take a deep breath. Their belly will move inward and upward when a deep breath is taken. To test yourself, stand up, put your hand on your belly and take a deep breath. If your hand moves inward, you need to do some serious practicing.

To many, the use of only the chest has become their predominant way of breathing. To be able to use deep breathing, belly breathing can be very helpful. It take a conscious effort to use the diaphragm, a sheet of muscle between your chest and belly, to assist in this task. The first movement in breathing needs to be the outward movement of the belly as far as possible. After that, then use the chest inflation to complete the breath. It may seem unnatural at first, but it isn't really unnatural. It is said, that if you watch a baby breath, he uses belly breathing. It is just over time that we have changed over to more chest breathing.

To improve your deep breathing, try to breath for a while with only your belly. Feel how the abdomen feels poking out and sucking in. Don't use your upper chest to assist in breathing during this time. After feeling comfortable breathing in this fashion, try to do both movements at the same time. Don't feel discouraged if you don't feel coordinated. Most people will find a tendency to suck their gut in when they take a deep breath. This makes breathing very ineffective, and as such slow and deep breathing is not possible. With efficient breathing it is possible to slow you breathing down to four breaths a minute or less. And with the slow breathing come a reflexive relaxation.

Now practice your breathing for three to five cycles. Take five to seven seconds to breath in and then five to seven to breath out before you continue reading. Why practice these techniques now and not wait until you've read the whole procedure? Because, tense individuals have trouble with memory, concentration and attentiveness. If you're tense (and even if your not) you often relax when you begin a task, while you may not if just think about it. Anxiety is a cycle that feeds on itself. To stop it takes breaking the cycle. The above ideas will get you started with relaxation.

If you feel light headed, then slow you breathing rate even slower by counting to six or seven or slowing the rate of your counting. It is interesting that in our natural breathing pattern three-fourths of the air goes to the top half of the lung, while three-fourths of the blood goes to the lower half of the lung. When you breath deeply the spread of blood and air is equal though out the lung, and with it more efficiency.

Practice these exercises every day for about twenty minutes. You may even want to re-read these ideas at a later time in order to refresh your memory. Learn them so that they become second nature to you, so that at any time you can utilize them. You will find them helpful when in stressful situations occurs.

A technique to add once you've become proficient with the breathing skills is muscle relaxation. First you need to get in touch with what your senses are telling you about your skin and muscles. Begin by focusing your attention on a small area such as your neck or shoulders, and let the muscles in that area relax, just notice how the skin and muscles feel. Once you can do this in a localized area, move systematically through the body. I recommend starting at the top of the head, then moving to around the eyes, then the mouth, then the neck, etc.. In each area feel what that area feels like using the sensations that your body already feels. What do the muscles inside feel like? Move those muscles around some, or tense the muscles and then let them relax, notice if there is soreness, fatigue, discomfort. Then let those muscles feel warm, relaxed, calm, loose. Then move to the next set of muscles. Do this until you've moved through all the areas of your body, or if you have limited time, just focus on the most problematic areas. These are the areas of the face, neck, shoulders, and back. Remember when the body relaxes, the mind relaxes; and keep your attention on your senses and don't let your mind return to thinking. When your mind is quiet, when you feel you have nothing pressing, that is when your body can best relax.

Many people use tapes to relax. While those are helpful, they have limitations. They can't be taken with you. To help you get to sleep, you have to get up, find the tape and start it. It is like the phrase: “If you get a person a fish, he has a meal; If you teach him to fish, he'll feed himself for a lifetime.” (Though in south Mississippi, it is said, that if you teach them how to fish, they will leave home every weekend and return home drunk.) If you can know these skill and become proficient in them, then you can apply them at any time and in any situation.

While it is good to practice these skill when things are quiet and you are alone. The most frequent time you will need these skills are when things are noisy and activity surrounds you. At those times, it is important to remember is that in order for them to work, you have to do them. Just tell yourself, you can accept any outcome of the current events, then take a slow deep breath, and let it out as you relax the muscles of you neck and shoulder. Then engage your senses on the world around you. Notice the colors, shapes, sizes, and movement of the world you see. Breath deep the smells, and notice the richness. Listen to what you can hear with an un-critical mind. If someone is talking to you, tell yourself the what that person is saying is important to you, and that you are interested.

To be able to stay in your senses and to not have to think your way through the day have consistent routines that you use, such as when you sleep, eat, and exercise, how you face the problems of the world. Have a good game plan, then stick to it.

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