How many times have you heard that little advice line from your friends and family?
Easy for them to say. But for us stressaholics, it’s not an easy thing at all. I have learned through my years of coping (and not coping) with stress, that to “just relax” is pretty much a full time job. If I do not keep relaxation at the top of my consciousness virtually all the time, my body lets me know through various acts of rebellion.
First comes the pain between the shoulder blades. Then the neck muscles begin to cramp. Then it’s the stomach ache, which sometimes ends in getting-sick-and-going-to-bed for hours or even days. It is not pleasant.
The physical manifestations of stress are different for different people. Yours may be migraines, low back pain, high blood pressure—you’re probably well aware of where the stress goes. But how can you stop it? I use a number of different techniques, with varying frequency and degrees of success. I’ll talk about each of these in detail in future blogs, but here’s the short list:
· Progressive relaxation
· Breath work
Let’s start with progressive relaxation. This is the technique of relaxing each part of the body in sequence. Some people start with the toes and work up. I prefer starting at the top of the head and working down. I like this process because I can more easily visualize the stress leaving my body when I’m moving from top to bottom. Some people use a technique of tensing and releasing each muscle group. Others just visualize the stress draining out of the body.
Years ago a psychologist gave me a CD with a narrative sequence that took me through this process. I still have it on my iPod and I use it a lot, especially when I’m traveling.
You can find a number of scripts on the Internet (just Google progressive relaxation). You can memorize these, record them in your own voice, or have someone else record them for you.
The aforementioned psychologist would combine this script with a biofeedback program that literally showed on a graph how my heart rate and breathing slowed when I was in the process. The first time I saw this on screen, I was astounded. This stuff really works!
Most of the scripts and sequences I’m familiar with take about ten minutes to complete. But sometimes we don’t have ten minutes—maybe more like ten seconds. So I have a short form I use frequently throughout the day. I do it as part of my "30 golden minutes" discussed in an earlier post, in the shower, at my desk, in the car, in meetings—anywhere I become aware that tension is reaching a boiling point. Just say this out loud or to yourself, whenever you feel the need.
My head is completely relaxed (relax your eyes too).
My neck is completely relaxed (relax your tongue and throat)
My shoulders are completely relaxed.
My arms are completely relaxed.
My fingers are completely relaxed.
My heart is completely relaxed.
My chest is completely relaxed.
My stomach is completely relaxed
My hips are completely relaxed.
My legs are completely relaxed.
My feet are completely relaxed.
My toes are completely relaxed.
My mind is completely relaxed.
My entire body is completely relaxed and at peace.
This is the best quick fix I know for keeping stress at bay. Or as my grandmother used to say when trying to cram some distasteful snake-oil-type remedy down my throat, “It can’t hurt you and it might even do you some good.”