Tag Archives: guided imagery

Handling Stress, Part III: Simple Relaxation Techniques (encore) ~ Plus our Contest!

by Kassandra Lamb

For the month of August, while our misterio authors are focused on launching our new Readers’ Group (pop over to enter our contest!), we are re-running my series on stress management. Today, in our third installment, we’ll be talking about the best antidote to stress—relaxation.

Over the last two weeks, we’ve talked about the three components of stress: the stressors (stressful events) in our lives, our body’s response to those stressors and how we interpret stressors cognitively and emotionally.

And we’ve drilled down some on the subject of stressors and our body’s response to stress. (Both of those posts are chock full of tips for reducing stress, so I hope you’ll check them out.) Next week, I’ll explore how we interpret stressors and how to change those interpretations to lower stress.

simple relaxation techniques -- woman receiving shoulder massage
(Rama Day Spa Frankfurt — photo by Thomas Wanhoff from Phnom Penh Cambodia CC-BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

But on to today’s topic…

What do you think of when you hear the word relaxation? A long soak in a hot tub, a massage, going to a yoga class, a vacation to the beach…

Those are excellent ways to relax, but they require some time and effort. So, if you’re like me, you may very well put off doing those things until you are “less busy.” (Which rarely seems to happen for me.)

There are however, many simple relaxation techniques you can use throughout every day. AND it is important to relax throughout the day, every day. Those big relaxers are great, but they don’t last. I get a massage and the tension is back in my shoulders by the next day–sometimes sooner.

Why is it important to relax throughout the day? Remember that part of the nervous system that controls arousal vs. relaxation that we talked about two weeks ago?

Quick refresher:

The autonomic nervous system controls our body’s response to challenges and threats in our environment. When something is threatening/challenging us, the sympathetic branch of the ANS arouses our body to meet that challenge. Our heart rate, blood pressure, etc. go up, muscles tense, respiration increases, etc. When the challenge is over, the parasympathetic branch calms us down again so everything can go back to normal.

(photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash)

These two branches counterbalance each other, like the old-fashioned teeter-toters on children’s playgrounds. When one kid pushes off and goes up, the kid on the other side goes down.

Every time we activate the parasympathetic branch (relaxation) we are deactivating the sympathetic branch (arousal). And then it takes a little while for the body to get all stressed out and tense again.

Let me say that again—every time you take a couple of minutes to relax, it takes a lot more stress to get you all tense again.

In terms of our minds, when we use simple relaxation techniques throughout the day, we recharge our coping batteries so that we go back to the tasks at hand with a clearer focus. Thus the time spent on these short breaks will actually enhance our productivity.

simple relaxation techniques -- get comfy
Get comfortable! (photos by Ian Dooley, Sophie Dale, Kelly McCrimmon, and Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash)

So here are some quick and simple relaxation techniques one can use periodically throughout the day. All of these can be done in 5-10 minutes, some of them even less than that.

Btw, with all of these (except #4) it’s a good idea to be seated or lying down. It doesn’t matter where—you can even do these in a car (preferably not while driving!)—as long as each part of your body is comfortably supported.

1.  Progressive relaxation:

Close your eyes, take a deep breath, then focus on each muscle group, telling those muscles to relax completely. You can start either with your scalp or your feet. I’m a scalp person myself. I imagine the tension just flowing down and out of my body.

After my scalp, I tell my face muscles to relax (sometimes the jaw needs separate attention), then my neck, shoulders, etc. I imagine the relaxation slowly moving down my arms and hands, and down my legs, as all the tension flows out the soles of my feet.

2.  Guided imagery:

simple relaxation techniques -- guided imagery

No need to book a flight or pack your bags. Just close your eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine your favorite relaxing vacation spot. Build the imagery by engaging all the senses.

Lay on the beach and feel the warmth of the sun and the gentle breeze on your skin, hear the seagulls and the lapping waves, smell the salt in the air, etc.

Or perhaps you’re more the cabin-in-the-woods type. It really doesn’t matter where you go, as long as it is relaxing for you. Again, engage as many of your senses as possible to help put yourself in that place.

Can’t think of a relaxing place to go, or not the best at imagining things. Then try a little…

3.  Self-hypnosis:

simple relaxation techniques -- self-hypnosis
(photo by Danny Howe on Unsplash)

Hypnosis has this big mystic around it, that it really doesn’t merit. It’s nothing more or less than using the power of suggestion, while the mind is in a relaxed state, to influence our behavior/mood.

Close your eyes, take a deep breath and visualize a set of steps in your mind’s eye (or a hill gently sloping downward in front of you). Imagine yourself slowly going down those steps/that hill and tell yourself (silently inside your head, and repeat the suggestion several times) that with each step you will become more and more relaxed. Once at the bottom, tell yourself that you will relax completely for a certain number of minutes (whatever time you have available), and then you will ‘wake up’ refreshed and energized (again, repeat this suggestion several times).

Then just let yourself drift. You may want to set a timer or alarm on your phone, just in case, but 9 times out of 10, your internal clock will get it right and you’ll “wake up” at the time you designated.

If even imagining a hill or staircase is not that easy for you, then count slowly to 10 or 20, telling yourself that when you reach that final number, you will be completely relaxed.

4.  Deep breathing:

I’ve saved the easiest and fastest of these simple relaxation techniques for last.

Have you noticed a trend above? Each time you start with a deep breath.

simple relaxation techniques

That’s because deep breathing automatically engages the parasympathetic (relaxation) branch of the ANS and gets the ball rolling.

So if you don’t have time to stop even for 5 minutes, you can just do the deep breathing. Three slow, deep breaths in a row can do wonders!

I also saved this one for last because I have a fun story to share. A friend of mine was going through a really busy time (a new job plus planning her daughter’s wedding). I kept reminding her to take time to relax, and she kept saying she couldn’t do that. She would relax once XYZ was off her plate. Everything I suggested, she said she didn’t have time or wouldn’t remember to do it.

So I suggested that I hypnotize her and give her post-hypnotic suggestions that whenever she started to get tense she would automatically take a deep breath. She gave me a skeptical look, but she did sit still long enough for me to do this.

The next time I saw her was about two weeks later. I asked how the deep breathing was going.

“It´s wonderful!” she said. “I don´t have to think about it. I just automatically take a breath whenever I need to relax some. There was one problem though. Jim (her husband) kept looking at me funny. I finally asked him why and he said he was worried about me because I was so depressed.”

“‘I’m not depressed,’ I told him. ‘What gave you that idea?’ And he said, ‘Well, you’re constantly walking around the house sighing.’” 😀

I suggest trying all of these simple relaxation techniques and then focusing on the one(s) that work best for you. I mainly use #1 and #3 myself.

What do you think? Which of these techniques appeal the most to you? Or do you have other ways that you like to relax?

Oh, and don’t forget to check out our new Readers’ Group on Facebook and to enter our August Beach Reads contest there. You get two extra entries by joining the group.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

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Relaxation Made Easy

We all know that the best antidote to stress is relaxation. But what do you think of when you hear that word relaxation? A long soak in a hot tub, a massage, a vacation to the beach…

woman receiving shoulder massage

(Rama Day Spa Frankfurt — photo by Thomas Wanhoff from Phnom Penh Cambodia CC-BY-SA 2.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Those are excellent ways to relax but they require some time and effort. So if you’re like me, you may very well put off doing those things. “I’ll schedule a vacation/book a massage, etc. when I get past this deadline,” I tend to say to myself.

There are however, many simple ways to relax throughout every day. AND it is important to relax throughout the day every day. Those big relaxers are great, but they don’t last. I get a massage and the tension is back in my shoulders by the next day–sometimes sooner.

Why is it important to relax throughout the day? Remember that part of the nervous system that controls arousal vs. relaxation that we talked about awhile back? Quick refresher: the autonomic nervous system controls our body’s response to challenges and threats in our environment. When something is threatening/challenging us, the sympathetic branch of the ANS arouses our body to meet that challenge. Our heart rate, blood pressure, etc. go up, muscles tense, respiration increases, etc. When the challenge is over, the parasympathetic branch calms us down again so everything can go back to normal.

These two branches counterbalance each other, like the old-fashioned teeter-toters on children’s playgrounds when I was a kid. When one kid pushed off and went up, the kid on the other side went down.

So every time we activate the parasympathetic branch (relaxation) we are deactivating the sympathetic branch (arousal). And then it take a little while for the body to get all stressed out and tense again.

In terms of our minds, when we take relaxation breaks throughout the day, we recharge our coping batteries so that we go back to the tasks at hand with a clearer focus. Thus the time spent on these little relaxation breaks will enhance our productivity, making them well worth it.

So here are some quick and simple ways to relax periodically throughout the day. All of these can be done in 5-10 minutes, some of them even less than that. Btw, with all of these (except #4) it’s a good idea to be seated or lying down with every part of your body comfortably supported.

1.  Progressive relaxation: Closing your eyes, you take a deep breath, then focus on each muscle group, telling your brain to send the signal for those muscles to relax completely. You can start either with your scalp or your feet. I’m a scalp person myself. I imagine the tension just flowing down and out of my body.

Try it! Close your eyes, deep breath, focus on your scalp and let it relax, then your face muscles (sometimes the jaw needs separate attention), then your neck, shoulders, etc.

2.  Guided imagery: No need to book a flight and pack your bags. Just close your eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine your favorite relaxing vacation spot. Build the imagery by engaging all the senses. Lay on the beach and feel the warmth of the sun and the gentle breeze on your skin, hear the seagulls and the lapping waves, smell the salt in the air, etc.

3.  Self-hypnosis: Can’t think of a relaxing place to go, or not the best at imagining things. Then try a little self-hypnosis. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and visualize a set of steps in your mind’s eye (or a hill gently sloping downward in front of you). Imagine yourself slowly going down those steps/that hill and tell yourself (repeat several times) that with each step you will become more and more relaxed. Once at the bottom, you can tell yourself that you will relax completely for ____ minutes and then you will ‘wake up’ refreshed and energized (again repeat several times).

4.  I’ve saved the easiest and fastest for last. Have you noticed a trend above? Each time you start with a deep breath. That’s because deep breathing automatically engages the parasympathetic (relaxation) branch of the ANS and gets the ball rolling. So if you don’t have time to stop even for 5 minutes, you can just do the deep breathing. Three slow, deep breaths in a row can do wonders!

I also saved this one for last because I have a fun story to share. A friend of mine was once going through a very busy time. I kept reminding her to take time to relax and take care of herself, and she kept saying she couldn’t do that. She would relax once XYZ was off her plate. I suggested all of the above and her response was that she didn’t even have 5 minutes a day to spare, and she knew she would never remember to take the deep breaths.

I suggested that I hypnotize her and give her post-hypnotic suggestions that whenever she started to get tense she would automatically take a deep breath. She gave me a skeptical look but she did sit still long enough for me to do this.

The next time I saw her was about two weeks later. I asked her how the deep breathing was going.

“It´s wonderful!” she said. “I don´t have to think about it. I just automatically take a breath whenever I need to relax some. There was just one problem. Jim (her husband) kept looking at me funny. I finally asked him why and he said he was worried about me because I was so depressed.”

“‘I’m not depressed,’ I told him. ‘What gave you that idea?’”

“‘Well, you’re constantly walking around the house sighing,’ he said.” 🙂

What do you think? Which of these techniques appeals the most to you? Or do you have other ideas?

I suggest trying all of these and then focusing on the one(s) that work best for you. I mainly use #1 and #3 myself.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

Please follow us by filling in your e-mail address where it says “subscribe to blog via email” in the column on the right, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!

DDPP: Surviving the Stress of the Holidays (and a Contest!)

In my practice as a psychotherapist I did a lot of work with stress management. When my clients were in stress overload, I would recommended that they Dump, Delegate, Postpone and Pamper.  “Just remember, DDPP,” I would tell them.

One client jokingly said, “That sounds like a pesticide.” And thus DDPP was dubbed the ‘stressicide formula.’

As we move into this hectic and very stressful time of year, it is all too likely that we will end up in stress overload.

(photo by Benson Kua)

And once we’re there, everything becomes overwhelming. The thing about stress is that we have this threshold. We can be doing fine, reveling even in how much we’re getting accomplished in our fast-paced lives. And then suddenly, we’ve passed our threshold for coping with stress and suddenly we’re a basket case. We’re not dealing with ANYTHING very effectively anymore.

The stress threshold is like that. It’s an on-off switch. We’re good, we’re good, we’re great even as we multi-task and get revved up to accomplish even more, and then whammo, we’ve used up all our coping ability and we’re burned out big time!

That’s when we need to apply DDPP.

DUMP: Is it really necessary or can we just stop doing it, temporarily at least. In the course of everyday life, when I’m stressed out, the first thing that goes is making the bed. I like a neat house and a bedroom with a made bed. But this is not essential stuff. I can let it go when other things are demanding my coping resources.

At Christmas time, DUMP becomes even more important. My to-do-list gets pared down to what is truly essential to do to make the holiday what I want it to be.

Two years ago, when my oldest grandson was right smack in the middle of the terrible twos, we dumped the formal turkey dinner and had a cold buffet instead. I cooked a couple turkey breasts in advance, sliced them and took them to my son and daughter-in-law’s house. We served them with a variety of cold salads and breads. And you know what, we actually had a better time than we’d had the year before while trying to put together a formal Christmas dinner and deal with an 18-month-old who tends to be hyperactive.

It’s become a new family tradition. I doubt we will ever go back to the sit-down meal, at least not until my grandchildren are a bit older.

All this baby needs in a big green wreath on it!! (photo by Ildar Sagdejev)

DELEGATE: Is there someone else who also legitimately shares responsibility for the task you are stressed about? Or is there someone you can trade off with to deal with the current stressors, and you’ll pay them back later?

We all go through periods of stress overload. So trade off with those with whom you share your life. You help me now, I help you later.

In the mid 1990’s I was getting burned out as a therapist, so I started teaching part-time and cutting back on my psychotherapy practice. My husband and I negotiated a new deal. During the last three crunchy weeks of the semester, when I had a gazillion papers to grade, final exams to write, etc., he would do pretty much all the household chores. Then during my winter and summer breaks, I would do pretty much all of them.

POSTPONE: I’m not advocating procrastination here. But if it’s anything that can legitimately be put off until after the first of the year, postpone it! A lot of things that are not Christmas related can often be postponed. I’ve learned not to schedule routine doctor, dentist or vet appointments after November 15th. If my body, teeth and dog have made it through the first 10.5 months of the year, by golly, they can hang in there for 1.5 more.

My husband started teaching a few years ago. Now we both have the end of semester crunch right before the holidays. One of his Christmas tasks has always been writing the Christmas cards. The year after he started teaching he decided to adopt the European tradition of sending New Year’s cards instead.

Now he can relax over the task and enjoy writing notes to old friends, catching them up on the happenings of the last year.

And last but definitely not least…

PAMPER:

SANTA, I WANT ONE OF THESE!! (The hot tub, not the blond tyke — photo by Bin im Garten)

Unfortunately when we’re stressed out, the first thing that goes is taking care of ourselves. But that’s when our bodies and minds need pampering the most. We need to pay more attention, not less, to getting enough sleep and trying to eat a healthy diet. Because when we’re in stress overload we are putting more wear and tear on our bodies than they can really handle.

A few minutes of relaxation, about three times a day, can do wonders. Stop, sit, put your feet up, close your eyes, take a deep breath. And do something relaxing, if only for ten to twenty minutes. Read, take a bubble bath, or just sit there and meditate (and maybe daydream about January 2nd!)

You can also use guided imagery to go to somewhere relaxing in your head. Imagine yourself strolling down sandy beaches on a warm day. It doesn’t even have to be someplace you’ve actually been. Make it up. I have this lovely rose garden inside my head that has never existed, and never will exist in my brown-thumb real world where I can’t even keep a potted cactus alive.

The time spent relaxing will be well invested, and not just from a health standpoint. You’ll find that you are more focused and productive when you go back to doing the multitude of things you need to get done.

And when each hectic day is over, treat yourself to a relaxing wind-down before bed so that you sleep well.

Christmas is supposed to be a joyful time. Somewhere along the way in our society, it has turned into a major pressure cooker. But if we can apply a little stressicide, some DDPP, to our holiday preparations, we may just be able to recapture the joy and peace of the season!

Please feel free to leave a comment, but if you’re too busy, I’ll understand. Do take a moment, however, to check out our MEGA December Contest that runs thru 12/23.

(Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.)

We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

Please follow us by filling in your e-mail address where it says “subscribe to blog via email” in the column on the right, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!