Stress Management and Relaxation Techniques
Stress Management – A technique
By Karen Hastings
Most of us know that stress is bad for us and that it has all kinds of negative effects on health. In fact, it has been estimated that 80% of modern diseases can be linked to stress and that stress-related complaints account for a significant portion of G.P consultations. More and more people are seeking ways to manage their stress and you may have found that setting time aside to sit down and ‘do nothing’ does not actually lead to you feeling relaxed, as you still have thoughts and worries whirring in your head.
A non-drug method of achieving relaxation, which is widely advocated by healthcare professionals, is relaxation training. The aim of relaxation training is for the individuals to be able to achieve both a relaxed body, with muscles free from tension and also peaceful thoughts, so that the mind too is relaxed.
Relaxation training can work as a preventative measure (to protect the body from stress related damage), as a coping strategy (to be employed in times of stress and thus reduce the effect of stress) and as a treatment for stress related illnesses such as high blood pressure, tension headaches, Irritable Bowel syndrome and much more.
Relaxation training refers to learning formal techniques. These usually take two forms, physical and psychological. The physical techniques work directly on the body and aim to educate the individual to recognise and reduce muscle tension. The techniques differ and may involve stretching, tensing and releasing individual muscle groups, learning to breathe in a way that encourages relaxation, moving body parts out of defensive tense positioning into relaxed positioning, reviewing each muscle group in the body, identifying any tension and then releasing it, practising the posture of a relaxed person. Psychological techniques focus on relaxing the mind. Psychological techniques vary and may involve visualisation, meditation, guided goal directed visualisation, self-awareness, autogenic training and imagery. Since the body and mind are interconnected, techniques which encourage physical relaxation, also work on the mind and techniques which encourage peaceful thoughts, also result in the body being more relaxed.
Once you have learnt such techniques they are a life-long skill and can be applied both formally to achieve a deep state of relaxation and “on the spot’ when you need to quickly release tension as you go about your daily life. Relaxation training is taught by various healthcare professionals, such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists, nurses, social workers and sports professionals such as exercise coaches. With a good relaxation book, it is also possible to teach yourself techniques. Like most things worth doing, learning to relax takes commitment and practice and it will only be effective if you practice it regularly and build it into your routine.
For now, why not try the following simple technique, known as peripheral vision. It’s quick and simple to learn and is very effective at activating the part of the nervous system, which is responsible for helping us feel calm.
Get comfortable in a chair and find a spot on the wall, straight in front of you and slightly above eye level. Throughout this process just keep focusing on the spot. Just continue to look at that same point, perhaps in soft focus, after a while begin to broaden out your field of vision, wider and wider until your really paying attention to what you can see out of the corners of your eyes. Keeping your eyes on the spot, extend your awareness all around you, become aware of all the other things in the room that you can see by using your imagination. Perhaps, imagine a tennis ball hovering just behind the back of your head. What else can you see behind your head? You may have noticed that your breathing has slowed down and that the muscles of your face have relaxed.
Keep practising this technique; it may help to play some relaxing music at the same time. You will notice that is impossible to feel tense or worried whilst you are in peripheral vision.
Self-hypnosis for stress relief
By Karen Hastings
Most of us expereince stress at times in our lives and often this is a perfectly healthy reaction to external factors such as having a new job or moving house. Sometimes, there are no major events going on in your life, you are just very busy and have begun to notice that you feel anxious more often or there have been some changes in bodily sensations such as an increased heart rate or shoulder tension.
I am a hypnotherapist, Edinburgh and when clients present at my hypnotherapy practice in Edinburgh, stressed out, one of the first things we do is to take a look at their routine. Usually we find that the client has little or no time built into their routine to relax. Commonly clients that are feeling stressed, will report that even when they try to sit down and relax they find this incredibly difficult and only feel comfortable when doing something. Often the time set aside to chill out, gets pushed aside and housework or some other chore takes over. When you are used to rushing aroud it can be really hard to switch off and change pace. This is where hypnotherapy, Edinburgh, can help you ensure you experience a specific period of regular ring-fenced time out. In this article, I will provide tips for self-hypnosis, a valuable relaxation tool.
Self-hypnosis is easy to learn and can really make a difference to your quality of life. The benefits of a good hypnosis relaxation session roll over into your everyday life and you could find yourself feeling much calmer generally. Heres how you do it:
1. Find somewhere comfortable to relax and sit or lay down, ensuring that your arms and legs are uncrossed and relaxed.
2. Begin to focus on your breathing, taking relaxing deep breaths in and slowly releasing. As you are breathing in, imagine to yourself that you are drawing in positive resources and as you breath out you are releasing any tension and worries. Sometimes, if you tune in to the sound of your breath in and breath out, this can help you to get relaxed.
3. You may want to close your eyes now or before this, either way is fine. The next step is to get your body to relax. This is important as we know that you cant have a relaxed body and an anxious mind at the same time. There are various body relaxation techniques to try. One that I like, is to imagine a small ball of warm light (perhaps it’s the sun) hovering just in front of your forehead. You can then guide this warm light, around your body from your head to the tips of your toes, imagine how it massages, soothes and releases tension in each body part, down to every tiny cell as it moves. The more specific you are the more relaxed you will become. For example, imagine how even your finger nails become more relaxed. If you find that any worries pop into your mind during throughout your relaxation time, just acknowledge them and then let them float away.
4. Next you can imagine yourself at the top of ten steps. You may already have planned what will greet you at the bottom of the steps. Make sure its somewhere lovely that you will become so relaxed just by being there. Take your time to move down each step in your imagination. For each step, say a positive statement to yourself, such as I am becoming so deeply relaxed now. Use your imagination to make this experience as vivid as possible. Fully engage your five senses.
5. Once you reach the bottom step, you can spend time just relaxing in your chosen place in your imagination. Perhaps it may be a lovely garden, a forest or a beautiful beach. Again use your senses to fully appreciate the sounds, feelings, smells and sights unique to your chosen place.
6.Finally, once your have relaxed for your chosen period of time, or you feel good and want to go about your day, reverse the process, imagine yourself walking back up each step, becoming more alert and awake, with each step, telling yourself you will be ready to open your eyes and go on with your day, feeling great, when you reach the top step.
That is how simple self-hypnosis is and with practice you can really let your imagination run wild, and try different relaxation methods to see what works for you. Sometimes it can be useful to visit a hypnotherapist for a few sessions first to deveoping an understanding of what the hypnotic experience feels like and to discuss how you can begin to develop your self-hypnosis skills.
Karen Hastings is an occupational therapist, master NLP practitioner and Hypnotherapist. Karen uses hypnotic techniques alongside NLP to help people stop smoking. Karen is based in Edinburgh and also offers home-visits in Edinburgh and Bucks. Visit http://www.karenhastings.co.uk for more information.
What’s In Your Coping Toolbox?
By Karen Hastings
Life consistently presents us with challenges and changes and at times this can lead to us feeling stressed. Planning how to manage and cope in various life situations, and finding out which coping skills work best for you, is the key to succeeding with stress rather then experiencing distress. When clients come to see me for NLP and CBT therapy in Hemel Hempstead, Edinburgh, it is a big part of therapy that they develop and become confident in employing coping skills. This article contains ideas for coping with stress and also acute emotional crises. If you are experiencing stress or emotional imbalance, CBT and hypnotherapy is available in Hemel Hempstead, Edinburgh.
Here are some ideas for coping with stress:
1. Understand more about stress – this involves recognising your sources of stress and how stress affects you personally. Plan for stressful periods.
2. Problem-solve – what is the problem, be specific and break it down into realistic achievable components. Then set goals on how to deal with each problem. Make sure you include how to begin your plan of action.
3. Develop new behaviour – if you take on too much or have problems saying no, learn to be assertive. There are plenty of courses at local colleges or you may prefer to see a therapist 1:1. Learn to manage your time more effectively and delegate wherever possible! Avoid procrastination; whilst you are not doing it, you’ll only be spending energy worrying about it.
4. Make sure you develop a support network – deliberately develop good supportive relationships. Ask for help when needed and accept it when offered. You must also be prepared to do the same for others.
5. Make time to relax and enjoy yourself – how many of us know we should do more of this but don’t make the time? Set aside time each day to relax and build this into your routine. Develop hobbies and leisure activities that help you too switch off.
Can you imagine yourself doing any of these activities when you need to cope?
Asserting yourself - Contacting one of your supports - Listening to music
Exercising- Taking a break - Going to a movie -Reading a book -Laughing/crying - Taking a walk - Taking a nice long bath - Writing a letter or a journal - Learning something new - Eating something healthy – Helping someone else.
It is important to identify and practice using coping tools if you want to be able to deal with your stress successfully. Obviously, it is not always possible to plan for stress as situations can happen that we do not expect. If you find yourself experiencing a period of crises, or intense painful emotions there are still coping strategies that you can employ in that moment.
Ideas For Coping with Acute Emotional Distress
1. Use of distraction – the aim of this is to limit the time you spend in contact with the emotional stimuli, the things that are causing you to feel emotional. The stimuli could be anything from another person to the thoughts that you are having. Distraction involves doing something else to absorb your attention.
2. Imagery – think of safe and soothing images. This involves imagining images that make you feel good, it may be a favourite place, person, pet or scenes from nature.
3. Relaxation – learn a simple technique like using peripheral vision to induce relaxation. Peripheral vision is effective at switching on the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the part of the nervous system responsible for making us feel calm. It’s not possible to feel anxious or distressed whilst fully relaxed in peripheral vision.
4. One thing in the moment – as adults we tend to spend much of our time stuck contemplating what went wrong in the past or what may go wrong in the future. Try and just focus on the ‘moment’. Perhaps this may involve thinking something like ‘I’m in my house in my favourite chair, I’m warm and comfortable and I have a good book to read’.
5. Exercise – physical activity can help to disperse the chemicals released in your body by the stress response. It also releases feel good chemicals known as endorphins.
6. Sooth yourself - do something to nurture your 5 senses. Be kind and gentle to yourself.
By Karen Hastings
The intention is good, I decide to take myself out for a walk in the beautiful woods surrounding the village where I live, to refresh my mind and get some exercise. It’s usually on the way back that I realise that I’ve hardly noticed my surroundings and have often been focused on the next activity in my day, thinking something along the lines of ‘I’ll just get this walk done and then I will go shopping”. Does this sound familiar?
Working as a cognitive therapist at my NLP, CBT and Hypnotherapy practice in Edinburgh, time and time again I see this approach to life exaggerated in client’s with anxiety based disorders and depression. Specifically, individuals with anxiety and depression often struggle to appreciate the moment, as their attention is taken up with worrying about the “What If’s” or re-visiting past events over and over again.
To give you an example, one of my clients at my NLP, CBT and Hypnotherapy practice, Edinburgh, has recently overcome his fairly long held fear of having a panic attack whilst driving on main roads, using CBT techniques. This client had been using the journey to our sessions to develop driving confidence and had really made substantial progress in overcoming this fear, which until a few weeks before had been an big problem for him. When I enquired as to how he found the experience of driving to our CBT session, in Edinburgh, he realised that he hadn’t been able to appreciate his achievement as he had been ruminating about an event some years ago, the whole way over!
The tendency to not live in the moment isn’t only limited to people with anxiety or depression, as I regularly demonstrate to myself on my forest walk. However, living in the moment is something we can learn to do through the practice of mindfulness.
The practice of mindfulness, which has its origins in Buddhism, is now considered within cognitive therapy approaches, as a wonderful skill to be learnt to encourage relaxation and to stress proof your life. It is very helpful way of reducing anxious and depressive thinking. Mindfulness involves the purposeful direction of ones attention and awareness to staying with our experience in the moment.
For example, on my forest walk, to be mindful would involve concentrating on the colours and textures of the flora, the feel of the breeze against my skin, the patterns the clouds make in the sky, the sounds of birds and wildlife, or the way the ground feels beneath my feet. This purposefulness is crucial to being mindful. It allows us to fully experience and appreciate life in the moment, creating calmness.
All to often we proceed through daily life, only vaguely aware of our thoughts as they wander in an unrestricted way. For some, the mind can tend to indulge in anxious, depressive, self-pitying, angry or self-defeating thoughts, recreating and installing negative emotions. By practising mindfulness, and purposefully redirecting our attention towards our experience in the moment, you can learn to create space, calmness and contentment in your life.
Mindfulness can be applied to any activity from waking up, sitting in a comfy chair, brushing your teeth, breathing or eating. For example, when eating, being mindful would involve focusing on this activity without reading, talking or watching TV. Take time to really look at the colours and textures of your food, to notice the feeling you get from anticipating the taste. Also notice how the food feels and tastes in your mouth, the different flavours, temperature etc. A tip is to approach your experience as if it’s the first time, with curiosity, getting rid of the “been there done that attitude”.
Becoming mindful is similar to relaxation techniques in that it takes time to discipline our minds to remain in the moment, and practice is required. It’s fine to start small with perhaps just five minutes at the start and end of each day and build up. It’s certainly something that I am learning to do alongside my clients!