I know I probably say this about every step, but muscle relaxation is probably one of the most important things you can do to manage your anxiety and keep it under control.
Every single day of your life….EVERY single day of your life……along with practicing mental relaxation, you must practice some form of muscle relaxation. It is critical, vital, necessary and every other word you can think of that means the same as important.
Your brain determines your level of safety by interpreting your emotions and your body language. It hears what your body language is saying and it responds accordingly.
One of the reasons your brain keeps you feeling so anxious all the time is because your body language is saying “I’m in danger”.
If you are like most people with anxiety disorders, you are a very tense person and you keep your muscles tight all the time, all over your body. It is your suit of armor…your shell. It helps you keep your “guard up”. It is yet another thing that helps us believe we are in control all the time.
If we don’t relax, nothing can hurt us, or so we subconsciously believe.
Your brain has been listening to your body language all these years and it thinks that the reason you aren’t relaxing is because you are not safe. Your brain thinks that there MUST be a very good reason that you never let your guard down and un-tense those muscles, so it is going to listen to what your body is saying and keep adrenaline and other stress hormones flowing through you to help you when the danger arrives.
Yours is a good brain. It is a healthy brain. It is a smart brain. It is doing its job.
If you want your brain to perceive your world as safe, you have got to teach yourself to keep your muscles relaxed throughout the day, and practice deep muscle relaxation for at least 20 minutes every day.
If you were really in danger, there is very little chance you would be achieving periods of deep muscle relaxation. Your brain knows this and takes relaxed muscles as a very good sign that all is right with your world. But remember that after years of your body language being tense, your brain will be skeptical of these new-found relaxed muscles of yours at first, and it will not start backing off of the stress hormones until a bit of time has passed and it really believes you are okay. But over time, the longer you make daily muscle relaxation a part of your life and incorporate the other anxiety recovery symptoms I talk about, your brain WILL start to trust that your world is not a battle zone and you will start to notice an improvement in your symptoms.
You will notice immediate temporary improvements after the very first time you try deep muscle relaxation, if you do it properly. It will lower your respiration rate, your heart rate and your blood pressure. And it will also make you feel calmer for a period of time after you do it.
And the GREAT news is that if you do it every day, on a consistent basis, it will help you stay calmer ALL THE TIME, not just immediately after the exercises or whatever method you choose to implement the relaxation.
How do you get your muscles to relax deeply?
Here are a few ways I get it done…
1. Progressive Muscle Relaxation: If you aren’t familiar with PMR, Click here, for a great article that will instruct you on the proper way to do it, in order to get the most benefit.
2. Deep Breathing Exercises: Deep Breathing Exercises have NEVER not worked for me. And I mean that seriously. I have NEVER done these and not felt better when I was done. I highly recommend them. I did these every single day when my anxiety disorder was at its worst, and I still do when I feel like I need something to “bring me down” from a stress filled state of mind. If you google the term “breathing exercises for anxiety”, you will find many different links to try, and I recommend looking through them and trying several different techniques until you find the one you are the most comfortable with.
I prefer a very basic breathing exercise that consists of a combination of deep breathing, counting, holding my breath and relaxing my muscles. Click here to find a page that will explain this exercise in detail.
3. Hot Baths: This is such generic advice for stress and tense muscles, but you know what? It works!
Before beginning, make sure you are nice and hydrated. Make the water as hot as you can tolerate, making sure it’s not hot enough to burn your skin of course. Lay in it for at least twenty minutes, being sure to get out if you start feeling light-headed. This is my very favorite way to relax my muscles, and wow does it work wonders. I soak until my muscles feel like jelly and I ALWAYS feel pretty amazing when I am done. I do this almost every day, regardless of whether my anxiety is bad or not. The benefits to my body are so obvious and immediate that I can’t imagine not making hot baths a part of my daily life. If I had done this 25 years ago before my anxiety disorder broke out, I may have saved myself from a lot of trouble. I really believe that.
Add some soft light and music, and this becomes just as relaxing for your mind as it is for your body.
4. Massage: If you have a partner, ask them to massage you for at least twenty minutes…or until their hands conk out. Or if you have the money, buy yourself a massage. THEY WORK! I personally don’t like to ask my husband for massages because then I feel obligated to give one in return and I don’t want to kill a good “massage high” by exhausting myself, so I just prefer to pay somebody to do it if I have some extra money and can afford it.
So it’s a bit of a luxury for me, but if you can afford a professional massage, or don’t mind asking your partner for one, I highly recommend doing it. Your muscles will love it.
5. Laying Perfectly Still for Twenty Minutes: This is another one of my favorites. I know, I know…they are all my favorites. It’s because I have had such success with them.
But you would be amazed at how much being perfectly motionless can relax your muscles.
Sit in a chair….lay on a bed….wherever you feel comfortable and do not move for twenty full minutes. Completely relax your muscles and do not move AT ALL for the whole period of time. Pretend you are paralyzed from head to toe and just don’t move, no matter what. No fidgeting….no scratching…..no changing the channel. Zero, zip, nada. Your brain loves, loves, loves this one and it will reward you by making you feel completely calm when the twenty minutes are up. It can be hard not to fidget, or scratch your nose, but the urges will pass whether you give in to them or not, trust me . 🙂
6. Meditation: I will post some links in the near future to show you some basic meditation techniques. I have a hard time with this one, I will be honest, and I am not sure how great it is for actual deep muscle relaxation, but so many people swear by it for the mental relaxation and clarity they say it provides, that I thought I would post it just so you could try it for yourselves and see what you think.
I have no good techniques of my own to share for this one. I am pretty bad at it actually…..my mind tends to want to plan dinner instead of quieting down and I can’t get it to stop. I know they say you should just let your mind “float” to wherever it wants to float….but I just can’t get there with it. But I will search for some good links and put them up in a separate page.
In the meantime, Google “meditation” and see if you can find any good websites that can give you the basics to get you started. If you try it and love it, let me know. And if you know of any good links to meditation websites, I would love to share them with my readers as well as look at them myself because I really want to make meditation a part of my daily life.
I think I need about 5 more hours in every day so I can do all the things I want to incorporate into my daily life.
7. Heating Pads/Hot Towels: Your muscles love heat of any kind, as long as it isn’t hot enough to burn you and I find heating pads and hot warm towels to be a very relaxing way to soothe and calm my muscles.
8. Yoga: Yoga is pretty amazing stuff. It took me a while to get into it, but now…I recommend it to anybody….anxious or not. At first, I was just like an awkward baby giraffe every time I tried it, but as I got better at it and more flexible, I really started enjoying yoga and realizing the great benefits of it. I feel so good when I am done. Holding those poses uses up every bit of energy in your body…at least it does for me….and after a session there is literally no tension left to be found. I feel about 10 pounds lighter and just so glad that I did it.
If you have never given yoga a serious go, I suggest trying some beginner classes, or maybe some YouTube videos or beginner DVD’s. Give it a few weeks….and see if you like it. Even if you just try a few poses at first and slowly build up your stamina and time invested, I promise you that 6 months from now you will be reaping the benefits of a stronger, more flexible body, and healthier mind.
These are all things that I used in the past, on a regular basis, to get my anxiety under control, and STILL use to this day from time to time so that I stay on top of my stress.
These methods work. I would not suggest them if they didn’t.
Do not tell yourself “Whatever…maybe I will try it sometime if I get the chance.”
DO AT LEAST ONE THING TO DEEPLY RELAX YOUR MUSCLES EVERY SINGLE DAY.
EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.
IT CAN BE VERY HARD TO MOTIVATE OURSELVES TO “WANT” TO RELAX.
Those of us with anxiety are not comfortable when we are relaxed. We are comfortable being uncomfortable. We may not like being uncomfortable….but it is where we feel the most like ourselves. It is what we are used to and all that we know.
So you might find yourself subconsciously, or maybe even consciously, resisting the urge to relax. It might be hard and feel “weird” and forced. But do it anyway and those feelings will pass, and you will soon learn to LOVE relaxation time.
When I first started doing deep breathing exercises, they made me even MORE anxious. My subconscious mind did not want me to relax…..it wanted me to stay alert and ready to do battle. But slowly, after doing it several times, my subconscious mind starting thinking “You know…..this isn’t half bad. I could maybe get on board with this.” And it gradually allowed me to relax more and more and more until eventually…and I am not kidding here….I literally cannot do deep breathing exercises anymore without falling asleep in the first ten minutes. I have myself so conditioned to associate deep breathing with relaxation, that it just automatically happens and I conk out every time. And the same thing will happen to you if you just stick with it.
Your brain craves the relaxation. Your muscles crave the relaxation. And your mind craves the relaxation.
Trust what I am telling you and even if it feels silly to you, and even if you don’t believe in it, or you think its hokey……just do it and see for yourself what great results you get.
Relaxed muscles lead to calmer thoughts. Relaxed muscles lead to slower movements. Relaxed muscles lead to less aches and pains. Relaxed muscles lead to a more refreshed outlook on your world.
Relaxed muscles just contribute to a more peaceful life.
Thanks for stopping by and Click here to return to Part 6: The Steps I Took to Recover From Anxiety .
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