As I mentioned before, deep muscle relaxation is SO important to calm the body and mind.
According to Dr. Fritz Hershey, a doctor of psychology in Redondo Beach, CA, “Relaxed low-arousal idling states set our brain and body physiology to their healthiest and HAPPIEST patterns.” Deep breathing exercises, done simultaneously with deep muscle relaxation, are my favorite way to achieve this low-arousal idling state.
These types of exercises work not only in the short-term, but if done every day, they WILL help to desensitize you and lower your overall anxiety levels.
One of my favorite “go-to” techniques is this abdominal breathing exercise.
I have found this exercise to not only be helpful when I feel the need to relax my tired muscles and relieve body tension, but also when I am having one of those really mentally keyed up episodes where I can’t seem to shut my mind off and the thoughts start racing and I am getting a little borderline-panicky. Twenty minutes of this exercise….and I feel like I may just be able to finish the day without “cracking”.
I started doing this exercise 20 years ago, way back at the beginning when my anxiety symptoms first really broke out. I needed something to help calm me down and make me feel relaxed, and every book I read said that deep breathing exercises combined with muscle relaxation would help. I was skeptical, however I stumbled across this particular exercise and started doing it every day and it turns out those books were right – it really works.
I didn’t just use this exercise when I felt I “needed” it……be it mentally or physically. I also made an “appointment” with myself to do this exercise every single night while I was in my really overly sensitized, stressed out early days. This was how I helped not only calm myself down for the immediate time, but for the long term as well. Doing breathing exercises on a regular basis is one of the best, easiest, most efficient ways to get the message to your brain that you are okay and not under any threat out in your physical world. For some people having music play along with the breathing helps.
If you have an anxiety disorder, your brain is stressed out and tired and thinks you are in danger. This exercise is how you lovingly reassure your brain that is not true. Its your way of saying “See Brain …..look how relaxed I am. No need to worry about me…I am living the good life out here. ” Just as a child can slowly be reassured that there aren’t monsters under the bed….your brain can slowly be reassured that you are not going to be attacked by something every time you let yourself relax. It’s a slow process of your brain “resetting” and learning to trust again, and this exercise helps that process along. I did it. I did it consistently. Every. Single. Night. And it worked for me.
It’s a very basic breathing exercise that consists of a combination of deep breathing, counting, holding my breath and relaxing my muscles. Here is how it works:
I lie down in a quiet environment, making sure I am in a comfortable position.
I set the timer on my phone for 20 minutes.
I take 2 nice, regular deep breaths….in and out…in and out.
In the next breath, I breathe in for a count of 1…hold my breath for a count of 1 and then exhale as long as I possibly can while slowly thinking the word “calm” and imagining that I am melting into the surface below me.
Then I pause for as long as is comfortably possible.
Then I repeat the process only this time I go to a count of 2….like this:
I take 2 regular deep breaths, in and out…in and out.
In the next breath, I breathe in for a count of 2…hold my breath for a count of 2, and then exhale as long as I possibly can while thinking the word “calm” and imagining that I am melting into the surface below me.
The I pause for as long as I comfortably can, then I repeat this process to a count of 3…like this
I take 2 regular breaths, in and out…in and out.
In the next breath, I breathe in for a count of 3…..hold my breath for a count of 3, and then exhale for as long as I possibly can, while slowly thinking the word “calm” and imagining that I am melting into the surface below me.
And I continue this process until the timer goes off, or until I hit the 20 count mark.
When I am stressed, I lie on my bed, turn off the lights and turn on my string lights, and listen to this YouTube Video. When my time is up, I don’t want it to be over and I continue to lie there. That is how amazing I feel.
It’s not always easy to hit that 20 count mark!
Sometimes I just can’t make it that high because I either fall asleep (yes it really will relax you that much, the more you practice) or because I can’t inhale/hold my breaths for that long….and you should never force yourself to do it if you are really straining at it. You will notice over the days and weeks of performing this exercise that it will become easier and easier to hold your breaths and inhale for longer periods. That is a great sign that you are benefitting from your daily efforts. But whether you make it only to 5, or 15 or all the way to 20, you are sure to get some benefit from this exercise and you should feel all over great when you are done.
Remember that it is normal to feel a little anxious when you first start doing breathing exercises but if you start noticing some light-headedness or if it is really making your anxiety rise…its totally fine to stop and try again another time. It’s completely up to you and how you are feeling about it. I used to be somewhat tense and anxious feeling when doing this exercise. I found myself really aware of the sensation of my heart beating at first, and it took me a few weeks of doing it regularly before I found myself able to loosen up and really get into it. Now – 20 years later – I am so conditioned to relax when doing this exercise, that I start continuously yawning almost immediately after beginning. It makes it very difficult to hit my “20” mark because I keep having to yawn in the middle of it, but it is still a very relaxing exercise for me, none the less.
Also, remember to use abdominal breathing for any type of deep breathing exercise that you perform. Shallow breathing just does not have the same effect, so be sure to breathe from your stomach, not your chest, to get the most benefit. You can even place your hand on your stomach to make sure you can feel the rise and fall while you are inhaling and exhaling.
When you are exhaling, really focus on feeling the tension release from the muscles throughout your body. Imagine you are blowing all negativity and tension out of your body as you exhale and think the word “calm”.
Using an essential oil diffuser, lighting some candles, and again, turning on some very soft relaxing music can help enhance the overall experience and make this even more enjoyable and relaxing for you. Your muscles and your mind will respond to the environment around you, so you want to make your surroundings as peaceful as possible.
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