Many of my clients often say that they find it hard to relax. I think that we have the perception that relaxing is easy, however in the modern day, where everyone is going all the time, just finding the time to relax is often very hard and so being able to actually relax often eludes even the best of us.
Relaxing is a skill! It needs to be practiced and used, otherwise we lose it, the same as our exercise “use it or lose it” motto. On the other hand, there are so many different things that we can do to relax it can be daunting and difficult to know where to start. And, like most things in life, what works for one person, may not work for another and so you will probably need to try various techniques or things until you find something that works for you. This could be reading a book, going for a walk, playing with your kids, cooking or something a bit more structured, learning how to meditate, taking a nap (which often follows learning how to meditate!) using the progressive muscular relaxation technique, or even just being aware of, and controlling, your breath.
I’ve used the below method of relaxation for many years, although finding the time is not always easy, I find it good to do in bed and I usually start at my feet and work up to my face. This version is from the Department of Health at Harvard University, and I think it gives very succinct instructions on how to perform it.
Like many things, you’ll probably need to try it a couple of times to get your own rhythm before you know whether it will work for you or not, so I encourage you to stick with it for a few times (once a day or at the very least a few times a week).
Progressive muscular relaxation
Stressed muscles are tight, tense muscles. By learning to relax your muscles, you will be able to use your body to dissipate stress.
Muscle relaxation takes a bit longer to learn than deep breathing. It also takes more time. But even if this form of relaxation takes a little effort, it can be a useful part of your stress control program. Here’s how it works:
Progressive muscle relaxation is best performed in a quiet, secluded place. You should be comfortably seated or stretched out on a firm mattress or mat. Until you learn the routine, have a friend recite the directions or listen to them on a tape, which you can prerecord yourself.
Progressive muscle relaxation focuses sequentially on the major muscle groups. Tighten each muscle and maintain the contraction 20 seconds before slowly releasing it. As the muscle relaxes, concentrate on the release of tension and the sensation of relaxation. Start with your facial muscles, then work down the body. The entire routine should take 12 to 15 minutes.
Wrinkle your forehead and arch your eyebrows. Hold; then relax.
Close your eyes tightly. Hold; then relax.
Wrinkle your nose and flare your nostrils. Hold; then relax.
Push your tongue firmly against the roof of your mouth. Hold; then relax.
Grimace. Hold; then relax.
Clench your jaws tightly. Hold; then relax.
Tense your neck by pulling your chin down to your chest. Hold; then relax.
Arch your back. Hold; then relax.
Breathe in as deeply as you can. Hold; then relax.
Tense your stomach muscles. Hold; then relax.
Buttocks and thighs
Tense your buttocks and thigh muscles. Hold; then relax.
Tense your biceps. Hold; then relax.
Forearms and hands
Tense your arms and clench your fists. Hold; then relax.
Press your feet down. Hold; then relax.
Ankles and feet
Pull your toes up. Hold; then relax.