| Self Help
You may not be aware
that when you are stressed your diaphragm locks and your breaths
are more rapid and shallow. You can actually change your body's
physiological stress response by using Calming Breaths. You'll quickly
send a signal to your entire body to relax by loosening your diaphragm
and by breathing slowly and deeply. Try taking these steps right
- Create a comfortable
position (sitting, lying, or standing)
- Deeply inhale through
your nose while slowly counting to four.
- As you inhale, pull
oxygen into your abdomen, then through your entire chest and upward
to your shoulders. Notice that, if you are breathing correctly,
your abdomen will rise first, and then your chest. Your shoulders
will move back slightly. [While you are learning, you can
place your hands over your abdomen to use as a visual cue. Your
hands should rise as you inhale. If your hands do not rise, try
imagining a balloon in your abdomen filling up with air.]
- Breathe very deeply
to fill your abdomen and chest, and hold your breath for a few
- Exhale through your
mouth to a slow count of four. Notice your chest moving down and
your shoulders moving forward as you breathe out all of the air.
- Imagine all the tension
from your body being pulled into your lungs and being exhaled
with each breath.
- Continue breathing
deeply for several minutes.
- Scan your body for
any area that may remain tense. Focus on this area and imagine
breathing directly in and out of this area.
Now that you have learned
to relax yourself using deep breathing, practice it and use it whenever
and wherever you feel yourself getting tense.
I. Quick Whole-Body
Feeling tense all over?
You can do this quick muscle relaxer at your desk.
- TENSE EVERY MUSCLE
in your body ALL AT THE SAME TIME -- squint your eyes, wrinkle
your forehead, clench your teeth, pull your chin into your chest,
hold your breath, push your elbows into your sides, clench your
fists, tighten your stomach muscles, counterpose your leg muscles,
and clench your toes and feet. Hold it for 7 - 10 seconds. Feel
your body tighten up and even "lift" up from the chair.
- Now RELAX every muscle
in your body all at once and breathe deeply. Close your eyes,
feel HEAVY all over, and SINK into your chair. Become a rag doll
-- relax your abdomen and let your jaw go slack. Take at least
five deep breaths. "Wake up" refreshed!
II. Sequential Whole-Body
This exercise takes about
15-20 minutes, but it is very effective. You can relax your
entire body by focusing on relaxing your muscles one group at a
time. You can start at one end of your body (e.g., your feet) and
gradually work your way through the muscle groups to the other end
of your body (e.g., your head). Try it right now -- you can either
sit in your chair or lie down (print this list out to refer to as
a guide) and relax different parts of your body in the following
- Lower legs
- Upper Legs
- Lower Back
- Upper Back
- Lower Arms
- Upper Arms
- Jaw and Tongue
There are two common
ways to relax these muscles:
Muscle Relaxation: Tense the muscle (tightly, but not so much that
it hurts). Hold it for a few seconds, and notice the tension. Then
relax -- let the tension go, allow the muscles to feel heavy and
limp, and feel the relaxation move in. Notice the feeling of relaxation.
As each muscle group is relaxed, maintain its relaxation while moving
on to the next group. As you become more deeply relaxed, you may
even have pleasant sensations of warmth and heaviness flowing through
b. Body Scan: Simply
bring your attention to the muscle and relax it while imagining
tension draining away. Imagine the muscle as heavy and warm, or
use another image that substitutes relaxation for tension. You
may want to imagine your breath flowing into the muscle on the
in-breath, and then carrying away any tension or discomfort on
Do you remember day dreaming
as a child? Time becomes suspended as your imagination takes you
to wonderful places. You can take a mental vacation right now, either
using the example below or choosing to go wherever you wish. Transport
yourself by using all of your senses -- sight, smell, touch, taste,
and sound. It's normal for your mind to wander, just allow yourself
to passively come back to your imagery. When you are ready to become
more alert, try taking a few deep breaths and stretch your muscles.
Guided Imagery Preparation
Take your glasses off, adjust your clothes so that you don't feel
constricted. Choose a position that is comfortable to you. Let your
arms rest either in your lap or on the arms of your chair. Put your
feet flat on the floor, legs slightly extended. Allow your chair
to completely support your body.
Now, relax your arms
and upper body. Move your head from side, making sure that your
neck muscles are free from tension. Relax your legs and lower body.
If you have your own guided imagery "story"in mind, you can close
You are now prepared
to completely experience the next few minutes, when you will use
all of your senses so that you can let go of whatever is causing
you stress in your life right now.
Think about a circumstance
that is creating stress for you. It could be a nagging thought,
an event, or an ongoing situation. What negative thoughts and feelings
do you have about it? Imagine what it would be like to let go of
those thoughts and feelings, to make them totally disappear.
Take it with you to a
quiet beach. It is a beautiful summer day -- the sky is blue, the
clouds are puffy and white, and you find yourself walking on the
beach barefoot through the clean, cool sand. The air is crisp and
clear with just a hint of a sea breeze that blows gently over your
skin and through your hair. You take a deep, deep breath and smell
the wonderful ocean air. The sun feels so good as it warms your
skin. Every once in a while a seagull flies overhead, and you hear
it crying its call in the distance.
You look out over the
deep blue-green sparkling waters. As you sense the expanse of the
horizon a feeling of calm overcomes you. The ocean waves rhythmically
swell, rise, and recede. Over and over, you watch the ocean swells
moving toward the shore, rising up into a foamy brilliant white
curl, hurling a succession of waves up the beach, where they then
crash with a rush of water up the sand -- the rush of water calms,
slows, and then it pauses before it silently retreats back into
You walk to where the
tide is coming in. You pick up a stick and write some words that
describe how your negative thoughts about what is stressing you
in the wet sand. You step back and read what you have written.
Now watch the tide wash
up and over your words -- water ripples over them, smooths them
out and then recedes and dissolves them away into the deep, deep
powerful sea. All of your negative thoughts and feelings disappear
along with those negative words. Enjoy the feeling of calm and peace
as you let go of any attitudes and expectations that create stress
and allow them
to recede into the ocean. Allow the ocean swells, alive with power,
to dissolve your stressor -- to dilute, churn, and transform it.
Feel your relief as you give it over to the deep and powerful sea.
Trust that it will be transformed in the ocean, like a once-rough
pebble that becomes smooth and shiny. Your negative emotions are
washed away and your stressor is transformed, leaving you with a
clear mind for productive thinking. For now, just enjoy the feeling
of calm and peace. Later if you wish, you can return to this beach,
to pick up a shell or a pebble washed back up onto the shore, your
symbol of your stressor, transformed.