We live in an age where we experience a constant increase in responsibilities, which in turn leads to stress and an increase in the incidence of anxiety. Not being able to reduce your responsibilities does however not mean that you need to be a helpless victim of anxiety. All you need is to make an “appointment” with yourself each day during which time you can do some “high priority” relaxation exercises. Over the long term these exercise will help you to, not only perform better at your responsibilities, but they will also increase your enjoyment of life.
There are some relaxation techniques that you can do on your own and other which you will need a qualified professional for. With all of the exercise it is important that you consult with your doctor first, as some of these relaxation exercises can lead to a sudden drop in your blood pressure and heart rate.
When you are under stress, your body reacts with the “stress response”. The aim of all of the following exercises is to trigger the opposite response, which is your “relaxation response”:
- Progressive muscle relaxation: When doing this exercise you should focus on one muscle group in your body, for example your right foot. Sitting with closed eyes (to help you focus) tense the muscles in your right foot for about 10 seconds before relaxing the muscles again for 20 seconds. Then move higher up, to the muscles in your calves. Tense the muscles in your calves for 10 seconds and then relax for 20 seconds. Move onto the next muscle group, in this example it would be your right upper thigh muscles. This exercise not only helps you to deliberately tense and relax your muscles, but also “reminds” your brain of how it feels when you are relaxed. You should work from one side of your body to the other, for instance from your feet to your legs, from your legs to your abdomen, from your abdomen to your chest and arms and end with the muscles in your face.
- Diaphragmatic breathing requires that you deliberately alter your own breathing pattern by expanding your abdomen during breathing rather than your chest. Taking deep slow breaths may not only ease your anxiety, but also leave you feeling energized.
- Guided imagery or GI uses images, either real or imaginary, to help you replace negative thoughts and associations with more pleasant ones. Having a photo of or imagining that you are in a place where you feel safe and comfortable can help you to overcome the negative perceptions that you may experience from places or situations.
- Autogenic training: Ideally you should sit or lie alone in a quiet place with your eyes closed. Remove all irritations, such as glasses, hair bands, contacts, etc. Breath in slowly and deeply or start with some diaphragmatic breathing exercises first. As with the progressive muscle relaxation exercises you should focus on one muscle group at a time. In our example we will use the arms. Through soft verbal communication with yourself repeat the words “I am completely calm” followed by six slow repetitions of the words “My arms are very heavy”. End the first muscle group exercises with the same words you started with: “I am completely calm”. Next you should focus on the muscle group feeling “warm” instead of “heavy”. Move to other muscle groups in your body until you have covered them all. If you are uncomfortable with talking to yourself consider a voice recording.
- Mindfulness-based stress reduction or MBSR aims to draw your focus on the here and now, instead of allowing your mind to “race” towards future dreaded events. Realizing that you are not being threatened in the current specific moment and that you don’t need to deal with all of life’s worries today, may help relieve stress and correct your perception of feeling threatened. To achieve the best benefit from MBSR you should consider joining the 8 week training program taught by healthcare professionals such as nurses and/ or psychologists.
Anxiety does not need to be the shadow which follows you around everywhere you go. Even while you are practicing the above mentioned relaxation techniques you should seriously consider treating the cause of your anxiety instead of just managing its side effects. Popular and proven treatment is available in the form of cognitive behavioral therapy which will aid you in learning some very important stress coping skills, something that we all need in the fast paced life of our modern era.
Varvogli, Liza; Darviri, Christina. “Stress Management Techniques: evidence-based procedures that reduce stress and promote health” Health Science Journal; vol 5; Issue 2. 2011. Hsj.gr (November 13, 2012) http://www.hsj.gr/volume5/issue2/521.pdf
Cuncic, Arlin. “How to practice autogenic training”. About.com. 2012. About.com. (November 13, 2012) http://socialanxietydisorder.about.com/od/copingwithsad/qt/autogenic.htm