Thursday, April 16, 2020

Relax

Relax
verb
  1. 1.
    make or become less tense or anxious.
    "he relaxed and smiled confidently"

For some, relaxing is hard (raises hand HIGH in the air).  Over the years I've had well meaning friends or family tell me, "you should try _____."  Or "you know what works for me?"  When it comes to relaxation, what works for one may not work for others.  For example, I've tried yoga.  My two girls absolutely love it.  I just can't seem to relax contorting my body into unnatural formations.  I've also never attended a "Yoga for Beginners" class which may have something to do with my unease.  In any case, I find it awkward.  Meditation doesn't do much for me either.  My thoughts seem to really wander off base and end up making me more stressed than when I started.  I actually start to wonder, "am I doing this right?  am I supposed to be thinking about something else?"  Although it wasn't a meditation class per se, I really liked the time the girls and I spent in the pink Himalayan salt cave in Denver last Thanksgiving https://www.5starsaltcaves.com/   The temperature in the room, the music, the air.  It was perfect and I would do that again in a heart beat.  I do have a large pink Himalayan salt lamp on my night stand that is always on and I also have a heart-shaped pink Himalayan salt paperweight on my desk.  

Exercise doesn't work (which is a shame because if I exercised as much as I was stressed I'd have a killer body by now).  I get bored very easily and the thought of jogging/running/walking or hitting the gym bores me to tears.  Plus the germaphobe in me will be on high aleart at a gym.  Not relaxing at all.  I've tried journaling but that often feels repetitive (list 10 things that make you grateful, list 10 things that bring you joy, list 10 things that are important to you . . . ).  Plus, I have a bad habit of being way more into the journaling preparation than the actual journaling.  I love buying new notebooks, stickers, pens, markers, etc.  That's very relaxing to me.  But then I end up with a pile of blank notebooks.  I also have very bad penmanship so when I look at journaling ideas on Instagram or Pinterest, I'm left feeling less than.  

For me personally, I feel guilty trying to relax.  I feel constant pressure to be doing something.  And that's a big problem.  When you can't mentally or physically relax, you open yourself up to additional illnesses:  high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, addiction just to name a few.  In my case, some of the pressure is self-induced, some is social pressure and outside influenced. 

There are several points in the following article from Associate Editor at Psych Central, Margarita Tartakovsky, MS that hit home with me:  https://psychcentral.com/blog/when-you-cant-relax-7-tips-to-try/  

Psychotherapist Ali Miller, MFT encourages empathizing with the part of you that is having a hard time relaxing.  In other words, understand it, embrace it and find a way to work around it.  Music to my ears.  "We don’t want to make that part of ourselves bad or wrong, because then we’ll just be in an inner-conflict, which certainly isn’t relaxing.” Instead, you want to understand it. Once you understand it, you can collaborate and find a way that relaxes that part of you, too.  It’s like a negotiation between two parties: What do you need from me in order to relax? How can we both get our needs met?”  So if your tense part fears that spending 30 minutes watching your favorite show will put you behind on everything, gently reassure it that after you relax, you’ll return to your tasks.

Most experts agree that taking daily media breaks is important to our mental well-being.  "Every day dedicate 20 to 30 minutes to going without your phone, TV, iPad or any other electronic device," said Liz Morrison, LCSW, a psychotherapist who specializes in stress reduction. “Put your device in a place where you cannot see it or hear it so that it will not be distracting to you.” During this time, stretch your body or practice yoga or do anything that helps you reconnect with and care for yourself."  This is not a problem for me as I'm rarely on my phone.  The only device I'm really attached to is my Kindle.  
Planning a short, peaceful trip is another way to help distance your mind.  “Separating yourself from a regular routine environment can promote relaxation,” Morrison said. Plus, a short trip gives you something to look forward to, which can help you feel relaxed even before you go, she said. Your trip might be visiting a botanical garden or discovering a quaint town or walking along the beach."  With much of the world in quarantine this is great in theory but I get it.  It's nice to day dream.  I'd be walking in a lavendar field in Provence if I could.  
"Many of us feel relaxed while being in nature. “[T]he pressure to achieve and ‘be somebody’ falls away when we see trees and squirrels and flowers simply being themselves,” Miller said. “We see that they are perfect as they are without any effort. And I believe we internalize that self-acceptance for a little while, and we stop striving temporarily.”  I'm also a big fan of aromatherapy / essential oils.  I love soothing chai, eucupltpus, lavendar, lemon grass, sea salt, etc.  
Sounds simple enough but just breathe.  Miller suggested practicing this breathing technique from The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook: Place your hand on your belly. As you breathe in, push your hand out, and count to four. Pause at the top of your inhale. Then exhale, as you count to four and your hand falls. At the end of your exhale, silently say, “10.” Do the same—until you count down to one."  I hold my stress and tension in my shoulders so when I breath, I also shrug my shoulders and do some neck rolls.  
Morrison suggested checking out the app “Stop, Breathe & Think,” which teaches mindfulness, relaxation and meditation skills.  I will definitely try this one out.  I've also used the Calm app and some nature sounds apps on my phone to moderate success.  
Doing what you love helps you feel more relaxed because it brings you joy, Morrison said. For instance, you might spend time with your loved ones or ride your bike. Or, if in quarantine, you may want to ride your bike to get away from your loved ones.  You might try something you’ve always wanted to do such as tai chi or a cooking or a photography class.
Miller recommended creating a list of activities for all occasions. She suggested asking ourselves these questions:
  • What can I do regularly throughout the day to relax?  
  • What contributes to me being relaxed on a weekly basis?  I was able to very easily answer this one.  What makes me relaxed on a weekly basis?  A bubble bath.  That's it.  Nothing fancy, nothing elaborate.  Just a good, old fashioned bubble bath with water as hot as I can stand it, a ton of lavender epsom salts, some candles and lots of ice cold water to drink while I'm in the tub so I don't get dehydrated.  Some people like to take a glass of wine in the tub but I'm in there so long (usually 90+ minutes) that a glass of wine combined with the extremely hot temps would make me very woozy.    
  • What are some bigger strategies that contribute to my relaxation?
  • What techniques can I use when I’m particularly stressed, and which are more for maintenance?
You also might explore micro, macro and in-between strategies. Micro strategies don’t take much (if any) time, and they’re free and easy to access, Miller said. She shared these examples: “Be aware of the sensations of your feet on the floor and your fingers on the keys as you type; or set a mindfulness alarm to go off every 30 minutes to remind you to look away from the computer and notice how you’re feeling physically and emotionally.”
Macro strategies usually involve some planning, such as taking a vacation. In-between strategies might be getting a massage or taking a walk every Friday.
Both Morrison and Miller noted that different things work for different people. One person’s tension melts away in yoga class, while another person prefers to run. “Some people like doing breathing exercises, while other people get more tense when they focus on their breath,” Miller said.
The key is to figure out what works best for you. Then incorporate these different relaxation strategies into your day. Doing so is as vital to your health as brushing your teeth and getting enough sleep.



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