It is not hard to relax a muscle when you think of it. You can slump and go as limp as a rag doll without elaborate instructions. The principle is to relax consciously so you will continue to do so unconsciously and habitually.
Relaxation exercises and techniques
Progressive relaxation exercises and techniques, under expert instruction, are wonderfully effective and highly recommended. But lots of tense people haven’t the patience, desire, or need for extensive training. Luckily, small doses of relaxation can do a great deal to unlock tensions.
- Probably the simplest “dose” is just to slump from time to time to relax your position. Standing or sitting, bend and twist the kinks out.
- Flop your hands vigorously at the wrists. Let the fingers fly where they will. That funny feeling is eased-up joints and speeded circulation.
- Stretch hard. Roll your shoulders, windmill your arms. Imitate the motions of television boxers who loosen up just before the bell rings for the first round. Undignified? Maybe so, but it takes a lot of tension to sustain dignity that doesn’t rest naturally.
- Yawn – really yawn. Waggle your jaw, open it wide, chew on air with your mouth open. Voice teachers advise this exercise to gain flexible jaws and throat muscles; better musical sounds come out. An amazing amount of tension lives in grim jaws and tight lips.
- Change your pace occasionally. After trotting, slow down. Low gear gives you less speed but more power.
- Once a day, at least, you can stretch out on a bed, flat on your back. Prop your knees, neck, and other tense parts with pillows; you’ll soon learn where they feel best. Let the muscles of your head, shoulders, arms, abdomen, and legs go limp, one by one. Buy a chair of the right seat size, arm height, and upholstery to support and relax you in comfort.
How to exhale a tension
It is fine to count to ten before clouting an enemy. But here’s a better way to relax whenever you’re getting worked into an emotional lather:
Take a long, deep, delicate breath, way below your belt line, and let it out slowly. Try this easy, natural way of toning down excitement. It’s belly breathing, abdominal inspiration in more ways than one.
There is no trick about it; it is nature’s design for breathing, engaging the diaphragm, abdominal muscles, and lower chest areas. You can’t breathe that way when you’re cramped, hunched over, tense.
Breathe below your belt occasionally to limber your diaphragm. You’ll become unhunched and uncramped.
Rapid, shallow breathing is typical of anxiety and tension states. Take a lot of quick, shallow breaths and you’ll soon feel suffocating tension and crave a belly-deep inspiration. Many tense people breathe too much.
Many tense people breathe too much. They think they’re short of breath; they feel dizzy and even have frightening chest pains – all from too much oxygen.
Unconscious overbreathing removes too much carbon dioxide from the blood; it leaves a person oxygen-rich but carbon dioxide-poor. This feels like a hungry need for air, but it’s actually a need for a proper amount of carbon dioxide, which has a lot to do with triggering the normal rhythms of breathing.
A fatigue tonic
Many tense people never get tired enough-physically tired. Physical fatigue is rather pleasant, relaxing when you stop and completely restored by rest. Nervous fatigue is something else – persistent and always miserable.
Work your big muscles to soothe your nerves. When muscles are working, your brain is resting. Mental work can cause more fatigue than physical work. Nervous fatigue is rarely associated with terrific outpourings of physical energy.
Women who hate housework are often tired to death at the end of the day. It is not the pleasant kind of tiredness that comes to the woman who works just as hard but doesn’t despise what she’s doing.
It is a tiredness built up by a huge store of resentment which leads to intense nervous fatigue.
Get physically tired at the right time, and relaxation should come naturally. Not too tired, of course; it’s not relaxing or good sense to cram a whole week’s exercise into a Saturday afternoon.
Choose some activity in which you use the big muscles of your legs, arms, and torso. Exercise should be consistent, reasonable in dosage, and above all, fun.
The action cure
There is nothing like the action cure for worry. You can’t worry when you’re busy doing something else. Your mind doesn’t have room for worry when you are adding a column of figures, for instance.
After you have finished, and realize the sum is what you owe the income-tax man, then you may worry a bit.
Indecision is exhausting and breeds prolific tensions. It’s impossible to relax while looking at piles of work and trying to make up your mind where to begin. Instead, take action, one step at a time.
Make little tensions out of big ones. Divide and conquer.
How? Well, unanswered letters give almost everyone guilt tensions. Answer one a week and you won’t feel so guilty every time you think of your correspondence.
All people worry most about things undone and untackled, not about what we’re doing.
Some big decisions involve matters that may change the course of your life. You can’t make a lot of little tensions out of the big tension of trying to decide what job to take, what college to attend, or what house to buy.
If after gathering all the facts and weighing them you just can’t make up your mind, there’s still a way out – toss a coin.
You may believe that this is no way to make a big decision. But is it, if a decision is so evenly balanced that you haven’t been able to decide at all?
The action will relax you and channel your energies to make your decision good.
How to reduce pressure
Tensions seem to come from outside. But more than we like to admit begin inside and stay there, bouncing off our nerves like billiard balls in perpetual motion.
Many useless motions and activities drain energy to no good purpose. Here are some questions that people who find it hard to relax should ask themselves:
Do I try to be first in achievement, marks, and prestige because I’m ashamed to lose? Am I the cart horse for other people’s problems? Am I a doormat because I can’t say no?
You must realize that there is tension in the truth that somebody is always better than you at something. There’s relaxation in the truth that you are better at something than almost everybody else.
Is everything worth doing at all worth doing well? Perfectionists are the tensest people of all. They can’t see the Ming vase for the dust speck on it.
A large dose of DGAD is a wonderful relaxer. The initials are one doctor’s shorthand for “don’t give a damn.” Bite off what you can chew, savor the flavor, relax and enjoy it.
Relax at your red lights. Events beyond your control are red lights. Your bus is late, you’re caught in a traffic jam, you can’t get served in your lunch hour, rain postpones a day at the beach.
The usual reaction to these situations is fuming, fussing, mounting tension. Make such occasions automatic reminders to relax, stretch, watch people – how tense the poor things look.
Most of you are probably waiting to get a word in edgewise and say: What about the famous new tranquilizing drugs that calm, relax, and relieve tensions in chemical ways?
Physicians may prescribe them for some people to tide a patient over a period of great stress or strain; to ease jitters in endless kinds of brief, acute anxiety emergencies, but ultimately the art of relaxation must be learned by the patient himself, by practicing less tense living habits.
How to sleep easier
Tense people want to keep on being active. They tend to keep busy far into the night (particularly with mental work), finally hurry to bed, and expect to fall asleep immediately. When they don’t they worry about it.
Poor sleep habits aren’t cured overnight, but here are some hints which, in the long run, invite sleep instead of scaring it away.
Shut off your power; allow your fast-moving brain to run down. High-flying aircraft have to ”let down” to make a landing. So do people to alight in slumberland.
Exercise is tricky
A brisk walk or other exercise that leaves relaxing physical fatigue helps if taken long enough before you go to bed. But vigorous physical jerks (fine for waking up) stimulate metabolism and can delay sleep if done just before hopping into bed. Stretching, yawning, and deliberate relaxing of muscle groups in bed invite sleep.
Baths can relax or stimulate
Cold baths at bedtime are too stimulating. Overlong hot baths can do the same thing, and consequently, whip up metabolism. Best for relaxing is a tepid tub bath, about body temperature, not over 100 degrees. Don’t dry yourself vigorously with a towel – it is too stimulating. Pat yourself dry.
Take a short daytime nap
Take a short daytime nap, or at least stretch out and relax. “I’ll never sleep tonight if I take a nap,” some tense folk object. Not so. Relax once during the day, and relaxation are easier at bedtime.
Do not exciting before sleep
This includes anything from arguments to listening to rock and roll records.
Reading in bed
Reading in bed (preferably something dull) is an old soporific. But it probably won’t work if when drowsiness comes on, you have to get out of bed, open a window, brush your teeth, and awaken all over again. Be ready to turn off the light and slide under the covers when your eyes feel droopy.