Keep calm and carry on? How about keep calm and listen to music?
Research reported in HEART, a British medical publication, shows that calming music causes the heart rate and breathing to slow down. This often leads to a relaxation response. Slower breathing also relates to lower blood pressure.
The next time you need to relax, consider listening to some slow music and see if you notice your breathing and heart rate decrease.
Source: HEART Journal
Any day is a good day to take a few minutes to ease away stress. In as little as five minutes, you might be surprised how refreshed you can feel. Try different five-minutes activities throughout the week such as stretching, deep breathing, reading a few pages of a novel, listening to your favorite song or going for a quick walk. These mini “me” times provide a quick break and give you a chance to regain emotional and mental control.
Visualization techniques, also known as guided imagery, is a common stress management technique that involves the systematic practice of creating a detailed mental image of an attractive and peaceful setting or environment. It can be thought as a guided meditation and it’s practice can help people learn how to meditate.
Visualization techniques can be used by itself to achieve relaxation. Many people prefer to start practicing visualization techniques coupled with progressive muscle relaxation techniques in order to associate the physical sensations of relaxation with the peaceful visual image. When this association is formed, the visualization by itself will quickly bring the physical sensations of relaxation. For more information, please read our previous blog about progressive muscle relaxation techniques.
Visualization techniques helps people manage their stress as it serves to redirect people’s attention away from what is stressing them while suggesting people to act as if they were in that desired peaceful environment. Thus, eliciting a relaxation response.
Visualization can be practice anywhere. Visualization that is practiced daily, not in a crisis, leads to a quick easy access stress management technique. It is usually most successfully when practice in a environment free from distractions as it requires concentration. Therefore the steps below are recommended.
- Go to a private space where you can concentrate and make yourself comfortable.
- Close your eyes.
- Take a few slow and deep breaths much like what was described in our previous stress management basics blog post.
- Imagine yourself in your favorite environment, somewhere beautiful, safe, calming, ideal, and peaceful. Common themes are the beach, mountain, forest, waterfall, or even being on your favorite room in your house.
- As you look around and visualize each aspect of this environment, describe it in details. Focusing on the different sensations such as the warmth of the sun on your skin, the sounds and smells that surround you. The more detailed the description is, the more vivid the image becomes.
- With each breath, imagine yourself becoming more calm and relaxed. Imagine yourself smiling, feeling happy and having a good time as you continue to mentally describe and visualize this wonderful environment.
- Continue your visualization until you feel relaxed. Then, make sure to assure yourself that you can return to this environment whenever you want. Give yourself enough time to enjoy it.
- When you are ready, open your eyes again, take a couple of more breaths and then rejoin your world.
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), also known as deep muscle relaxation, is a technique for reducing anxiety by alternately tensing and relaxing the muscles. This technique is based on the idea that one can reduce anxiety by learning how to relax the muscular tension.
To use this technique one has to use both body and mind. The muscle groups of the body are tensed for about 10 seconds and then relaxed for about 20 seconds in a sequential order. At the same time, the mind concentrates on the difference between the feelings of tension and relaxation. If the mind wonders to different thoughts, one just has to bring it back to how the body feels at that moment.
Practicing PMR teaches one how to relax and manage feelings of anxiety. Please see the script bellow as an example of PMR. Feel free to record yourself reading the script. Then play it back and follow it along.
Remember to always listen to your body and consult a physician if you are not sure you can safely perform those actions in the script.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation Script
Get comfortable on floor or in a chair and close your eyes. Breathe into your diaphragm deeply and slowly. In and Out. In and out.
We are going to begin with you arms. Curl your fingers into a tight fist, bend your elbow and flex the front and backs of your upper arm.
- Hold it…5…4…Notice the sensation of tension…3… feel what it is like to be tense…2…1 Release.
- Now relax. 10…let the tension flow out of your arms…9…8…7…notice how the burning of the tension is flowing out…6…5…4…3…notice how relaxed and loose your arms and hands feel…2…1.
- Flex your fists and arms again. Hold it…5…4…3… feel what it is like to be tense…2…1 Release.
- Now we are going to move on to the head and face. Scrunch up your face as tight as you can, flex all the muscles in your face. (Repeat the counts again. Hold for a 5 count relax for a 10 count. 2 repetitions for each body part.)
- Next the neck. Bring you chin as low to your collarbone as possible. Leave your chin there but also push the back of your head back as much as possible. (Repeat the counts again. Hold for a 5 count relax for a 10 count. 2 repetitions for each body part.)
- Next the shoulders. Try to touch your shoulder blades together. Now shrug your shoulder up so that you shoulders are near your ears. Make sure that your fingers; lower arms, upper arms, face, head and neck are all still relaxed. (Repeat the counts again. Hold for a 5 count relax for a 10 count. 2 repetitions for each body part.)
- Not you’re going to tighten up your torso. Take in a deep breath and hold it. Tighten up your stomach muscles as though you are about to be punched. (The counts are faster because you are holding your breath. Repeat the counts again. Hold for a 5 count relax for a 10 count. 2 repetitions for each body part.)
- Now we will do your legs. Lock your knees, flex your thighs and buttocks and point your toes. (Repeat the counts again. Hold for a 5 count relax for a 10 count. 2 repetitions for each body part.)
- Once again breath deeply and slowly, relaxing your entire body. Make sure that your fingers; lower arms, upper arms, face, head, neck, shoulders, stomach, chest, and legs are all still relaxed.
- Now imagine that you are in a safe place. Picture that place as clearly as you can. Look around yourself at this place. Listen to the sounds that are there. Pay attention to the smells; try to actually imagine the smells that would be there. Feel with you hands what this place is like.
- I am going to count back from ten. With each count imagine that you are becoming more and more relaxed. 10…9…8…more relaxed…7…6…5…Even more relaxed…4…3…2…1
- Enjoy where you are and open your eyes whenever you are ready.
What is Stress?
Stress is a reaction to any change to which we have to adapt. It is a natural and important part of life. Stress becomes a problem when it is too much and/or for too long.
|Too Many Demands on Energy and Resources over a Long Period of Time
||High Expectations for your Performance and Deep Commitment to Your Work
||Few Actions Taken to Replenish your Capacities
How to Manage Stress?
We can cope with stress by reducing our perceived stress level or increasing our ability to cope with stress. Common stress management techniques are deep breathing, muscle relaxation, visualization and meditation (e.g. mindfulness).
Stress Management Quick Tip:
TO RELAX. Deep Breathing
Throughout the day, take “mini-breaks”. Sit down and get comfortable.
Slowly take in a deep breath counting to 3; hold it counting to 6; and then exhale very slowly counting to 6. See picture for correct inhaling and exhaling body mechanics. At the same time, let your shoulder muscles droop, concentrate only on your breathing. Concentrating only in your breathing and clearing your mind is the key to this exercise. By controlling your breathing you control your heart rate and your body’s response.
Because we tend to take shallow breaths when anxious, deep breathing can make people feel lightheaded because of the increased oxygen intake. Please make sure you remain seated for at least 1 minute before getting up.
Notice your anxiety cues and use deep breathing as soon as possible. The sooner you use this stress management technique, the easier it is to prevent your anxiety to escalate.
Deep breathing is a powerful technique that with practice and guidance can even help you stop a panic attack. As with most things, with daily practice it gets easier to successfully apply this technique.
Resource and Reference: Write Your Own Prescription for Stress by Kenneth B. Matheny.