Learning how to relax improves day-to-day living, and can be a valuable tool for coping with stress. We all experience stress in our daily lives, although the causes and the way we respond to them will be different for everybody.
Without necessarily being aware of it, we try to escape from the unpleasant feelings of stress and find some relaxation by going to the pub or to the gym session, or flaking out in from of the TV. Drinking, smoking or taking other drugs can also seem to offer an answer. But they are either toxic or damaging, and often act as stimulants rather than relaxants. People become increasingly immune to their effects and require more and more of them to get the same effect.
A better approach is to follow the old adage ‘A change is as good as a rest’. We can successfully find relief from stress through a change of activity. People who have tough, physical jobs often find relaxation in developing a mentally stimulating hobby. Those who have a mentally taxing job may take up hobbies such as walking or swimming.
But, if hobbies or extra-curricular activities, including exercise become excessive, and make people feel even more driven and pressurised, they then cease to be a means of relaxation.
Relaxation is about using only as much energy as you need to complete any task, whether physical, mental or emotional, and then recovering as quickly as possible afterwards.
The first task is to become more relaxed in daily life and not to waste energy on things that don’t require it. The second is to learn to use deep relaxation in the way you would use a full stop in punctuation, allowing you to pause.
Consider the way we drive a car. The accelerator adjusts the energy from the engine; the gearbox helps us to use the power efficiently in relation to speed. There’s constant interaction between the two, which keeps fuel consumption down, increases efficiency and prevents the vehicle from becoming overheated and burnt out. The car may stop at traffic lights or gently cruise through the countryside, and this balances the high energy motorway driving and overtaking. Between outings, the car can be switched off. We are the same. The key here is achieving balance.
How can I introduce more relaxation into my everyday life?
The first thing is to avoid putting more pressure on yourself in the attempt to relax. It’s an apparent contradiction that the harder you try to get to sleep, the more difficult it becomes, and relaxing is just the same.
It’s a good idea to start introducing brief pauses during the day – while waiting for the kettle to boil, after putting the phone down, at traffic light or waiting for a bus or train. These are opportunities to take your foot off the accelerator and put your mind into neutral. Little red sticky dots are a great help as a reminder to change old habits. Place these in areas where you can remember to infill – on your computer, telephone or even on the back of the toilet door! Don’t turn infilling into a worry, but try to do it as many times as you remember during the day.
As a rule, the trick to relaxation is to continue ‘giving it a go’. Try not to worry about the outcome. If you find things are not happening, then let go and move on. The best time to learn any relaxation skill is probably going to be when you are feeling less stressed, not in the middle of a crisis.
Remember, life should never be such hard work that you lose sight of lighter moments.
- When ‘infilling’, just stop, let your shoulders drop, gently sigh your breath out through your mouth, and pause momentarily.
- When you put the telephone down or come off your PC, drop your hands by your side and gently stretch your fingers and thumbs out. Stop making the effort and gently do a ‘swimmer’s shake’. If you feel sensations of heaviness, warmth, tingling or indeed lightness, these are all associated with relaxation and mean that you are getting a result.
- Whenever you are out and about, just learn to slow down by a tiny amount. Rushing about, frantically, may achieve little in the long term, except exhaustion. Think your activities through, don’t let them become haphazard.
- Give yourself moments of distraction. Gaze out the window, and enjoy the view. Notice pleasurable things around you, however small.
- Strike a balance between activity, rest and play – it’s vital for healthy relaxation.
- Smiling and laughing produce endorphins that will help you feel more relaxed.
How can I take relaxation further?
Once you’ve introduced small pauses into your life, and the concept is more familiar, you can build in longer and deeper relaxations. Until you understand what the feelings associated with relaxation are, it’s difficult to know to expect. Like any skill, deep relaxation is best learned from an experienced relaxation teacher, or failing this, a good-quality relaxation CD or DVD. It’s important to recognise that learning how to do it takes practice and commitment.
Is relaxation always helpful?
If you are under extreme pressure, especially if it’s been for some time, you may feel as if everything is getting out of control. This is a very common feeling. Once you start to relax, you will probably feel more in control. Things will start to resolve themselves. If you reduce physical tension with relaxation, mental turmoil does quieten down. However, relaxation is not appropriate for everyone. It can make some people feel worse if external stimuli are removed. Similarly, others may find withdrawing into a quiet and peaceful environment adds to their problem. If you start any relaxation technique and feel uncomfortable or disturbed, do not continue.