How to Handle Difficult Emotions Part 1: Relaxation
An Elixir for Body, Mind and Spirit
Relaxation is perhaps the single most important key to physical health and emotional well-being. It is the antidote to stress which is known to contribute to the development of disease. When we relax, our body has an opportunity to unwind. The benefits of relaxation have been well researched and some of these are summarized below:
It gives the heart a rest by slowing the heart rate
It reduces blood pressure
Relaxation slows the rate of breathing, which calms the brain and the nervous system
It also increases blood flow to the muscles
This decreases muscle tension
You have more energy
You will sleep better
Relaxation promotes enhanced immunity
When you are relaxed you have better problem-solving abilities
You have greater efficiency
Your emotions are smoother - less anger, crying anxiety and frustration
Less headaches and pain
I encourage you to make relaxation a priority! Relaxation allows physical and/or mental tension to be released. Tension is the body's natural response to threat, part of the body's alarm or survival mechanism. It can be a very useful response, but most of the time, we don't need this tension, so it's okay to learn to let it go, and learn some relaxation skills.
Healthy living is a matter of balance. Relaxation is part of the balancing process alongside other aspects of your lifestyle such as what you eat, your physical activity and how you handle stress. Learning to relax takes practice, as with learning any new skill.
It's a great help to learn a relaxation technique, to help us unwind and bring our tensions and anxiety under control. There are several books, leaflets or audio recordings which we can use ourselves. It's a good idea to practice regularly so we can be more prepared for the more stressful times.
How Relaxation Helps
Reduces tiredness - if you can manage everyday life without excessive tension
Improves performance - your performance in work, sport or music can be raised through self-awareness and control of tension
Reduces pain - pain can occur as a result of tension e.g. headaches and back pain. Relaxation can help you to cope by raising your pain threshold and reducing the amount of pain
Coping with stress - relaxation helps you to reduce the effects of stress and to breathe effectively
Improves sleep - by allowing you to be calm and peaceful
Improves self-confidence - by increasing your self-awareness and ability to cope with daily life
Improves personal relationships - it is easier to relate well to other people when you are relaxed and self-confident
Relaxation and Stress
When we feel anxious or stressed, it's our body's natural response to feeling threatened, the alarm system which helps us deal with danger. Our breathing rate increases, as does our blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, sweating, state of mental arousal and adrenaline flow. A lot of the time, we don't need those survival responses, so relaxation helps to decrease that adrenaline response, to let it go.
Breathing and Relaxation
Our out-breath releases tension in the chest muscles and allows all muscles to release their tension more easily. Breathing is far more effective when we use our diaphragms, rather than with the chest muscles. Sit comfortably in a chair and place one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen (hand on navel). Take two or three fairly large breaths - which hand moves first and which moves most?
Practice so that it is the lower hand on your abdomen that moves rather than the one on your chest. People often think that their tummy goes in when they breathe in - but the reverse should be the case.
When you're feeling tense or hoping to relax, try breathing out a little bit more slowly and more deeply, noticing a short pause before the in-breath takes over (don't exaggerate the in-breath, just let it happen). You might find it useful to count slowly or prolong a word such as "one" or "peace" to help elongate the out breath a little (to yourself or out loud).
Simple Breathing Exercise
We'll start with a simple breathing exercise which can be done in a few seconds, no matter where you are. It is particularly helpful at stressful times, but it's also useful to do it at regular intervals throughout the day.
Take a deep, slow breath in and hold it for 5 seconds. Feel your abdomen expand as you do this.
Breathe out slowly, to a count of 5. Breathe in again, make every breathe slow and steady and exactly the same as the one before it and the one after it. As you breathe out, concentrate on expelling ALL the air in your lungs. If you're alone, you could make a noise like "whoo" as you do this to help you feel the air being let out. Keep the out-breath going for as long as you can. Keep it relaxed for a few seconds before you inhale again.
* Check back next week for part 2!
Artwork by Michael Parkes