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Relaxation Techniques for Relief of Anxiety & Stress

© Susan M. Lark MD
 (Excerpted from The Menopause Self Help Book)

  • Focus on your abdomen and chest. Notice any anxious feelings located in this area and let them drop away as you breathe in and out. Continue to release any upsetting feelings located in your abdomen or chest.

  • Finally, focus on your head, neck, arms, and hands. Note any tension in this area and release it. With your breathing; release any negative feelings blocked in this area until you can't feel them anymore.

  • When you have finished releasing tension throughout the body, continue deep breathing and relaxing for another minute or two. At the end of this exercise, you should feel lighter and more energized. Erasing Stress and Tension
    Often the situations and beliefs that make us feel anxious and tense look large and insurmountable. We tend to form representations in our mind that empower stress. In these representations, we look tiny and helpless, while the stressors look huge and unsolvable. You can change these mental representations and cut stressors down to size. The next two exercises will help you to gain mastery over stress by learning to shrink it or even erase it with your mind. This places stress in a much more manageable and realistic perspective. These two exercises will also help engender a sense of power and mastery, thereby reducing anxiety and restoring a sense of calm.

    Exercise 8: Shrinking Stress

    • Sit or lie in a comfortable position. Breathe slowly and deeply.

    • Visualize a situation, person, or even a belief (such as, "I'm afraid of the dark" or "I don't want to give that public speech") that makes you feel anxious and tense.

    • As you do this, you might see a person's face, a place you're afraid to go, or simply a dark cloud. Where do you see this stressful picture? Is it above you, to one side, or in front of you? How does it look? Is it big or little, dark or light? Does it have certain colors?

    • Now slowly begin to shrink the stressful picture. Continue to see the stressful picture shrinking until it is so small that it can literally be held in the palm of your hand. Hold your hand out in front of you, and place the picture in the palm of your hand.

    • If the stressor has a characteristic sound (like a voice or traffic noise), hear it getting tiny and soft. As it continues to shrink, its voice or sounds become almost inaudible.

    • Now the stressful picture is so small it can fit on your second finger. Watch it shrink from there until it finally turns into a little dot and disappears.

    • Often this exercise causes feelings of amusement, as well as relaxation, as the feared stressor shrinks, gets less intimidating, and finally disappears.
    Exercise 9: Erasing Stress
    • Sit or lie in a comfortable position. Breathe slowly and deeply.

    • Visualize a situation, a person, or even a belief (such as, "I'm afraid to go to the shopping mall" or "I'm scared to mix with other people at parties") that causes you to feel anxious and fearful.

    • As you do this you might see a specific person, an actual place, or simply shapes and colors. Where do you see this stressful picture? Is it below you, to the side, in front of you? How does it look? Is it big or little, dark or light, or does it have a specific color?

    • Imagine that a large eraser, like the kind used to erase chalk marks, has just floated into your hand. Actually feel and see the eraser in your hand. Take the eraser and begin to rub it over the area where the stressful picture is located. As the eraser rubs out the stressful picture it fades, shrinks, and finally disappears. When you can no longer see the stressful picture, simply continue to focus on your deep breathing for another minute, inhaling and exhaling slowly and deeply.
    Healing the Inner Child
    Many of our anxieties and fears come from our inner child rather than our adult self. Sometimes it is difficult to realize that the emotional upsets we feel are actually feelings left over from childhood fears, traumas, and experiences. When unhealed, they remain with us into adulthood, causing emotional distress over issues that competent "grown up" people feel they should be able to handle. For example, fear of the dark, fear of being unlovable, and fear of rejection often originate in early dysfunctional or unhappy experiences with our parents and siblings. While many of these deep, unresolved emotional issues may require counseling, particularly if they are causing anxiety episodes, there is much that we can do for ourselves to heal childhood wounds. The next exercise helps you to get in touch with your own inner child and facilitates the healing process.

    Exercise 10: Healing the Inner Child

    • Sit or lie in a comfortable position. Breathe slowly and deeply.

    • Begin to get in touch with where your inner child resides. Is she located in your abdomen, in your chest, or by your side? (This may actually be the part of your body where you feel the most fear and anxiety, such as your chest or your pelvis.) How old is she? Can you see what clothes she is wearing? What are her emotions? Is she upset, anxious, sad, or angry? Is she withdrawn and quiet?

    • Begin to see her upset feelings flow out of her body and into a container on the floor. Watch the upset feelings wash out of every part of her body until they are all gone and the container is full. Then seal the container and slowly watch it fade and dissolve until it disappears completely, carrying all the upset feelings with it.

    • Now begin to fill your inner child with a peaceful, healing, golden light. Watch her become peaceful and mellow as the light fills every cell in her body. Watch her body relax. Give her a toy animal or a doll or even cuddle her in your arms.

    • As you leave your inner child feeling peaceful, return your focus to your breathing. Spend a minute inhaling and exhaling deeply and slowly. If you like working with your inner child, return to visit her often!
    Visualization
    The next two exercises use visualization as a therapeutic method to affect the physical and mental processes of the body; both focus on color. Color therapy, as it applies to human health, has a long and distinguished history. In many studies, scientists have exposed subjects to specific colors, either directly through exposure to light therapy, or through changing the color of their environment. Scientific research throughout the world has shown that color therapy can have a profound effect on health and well-being. It can stimulate the endocrine glands, the immune system, and the nervous system, and help to balance the emotions. Visualizing color in a specific part of the body can have a powerful therapeutic effect, too, and can be a good stress management technique for relief of anxiety and nervous tension.

    The first exercise uses the color blue, which provides a calming and relaxing effect. For women with anxiety who are carrying a lot of physical and emotional tension, blue lessens the fight or flight response. Blue also calms such physiological functions as pulse rate, breathing, and perspiration, and relaxes the mood. If you experience chronic fatigue and are tense, anxious, or irritable, or carry a lot of muscle tension, the first exercise will be very helpful.

    The second exercise uses the color red, which can benefit women who have fatigue due to chronic anxiety and upset. Red stimulates all the endocrine glands, including the pituitary and adrenal glands. It heightens senses such as smell and taste. Emotionally, red is linked to vitality and high energy states. Even though the color red can speed up autonomic nervous system function, women with anxiety-related fatigue can benefit from visualizing this color. I often do the red visualization when I am tired and need a pick me up. You may find that you are attracted to the color in one exercise more than another. Use the exercise with the color that appeals to you the most.

    Exercise 11: Tension Release Through Color

    • Sit or lie in a comfortable position, your arms resting at your sides. As you take a deep breath, visualize that the earth below you is filled with the color blue. This blue color extends 50 feet below you into the earth. Now imagine that you are opening up energy centers on the bottom of your feet. As you inhale, visualize the soft blue color filling up your feet. When your feet are completely filled with the color blue, then bring the color up through your ankles, legs, pelvis, and lower back.

    • Each time you exhale, see the blue color leaving through your lungs, carrying any tension and stress with it. See the tension dissolve into the air.

    • Continue to inhale blue into your abdomen, chest, shoulders, arms, neck, and head. Exhale the blue slowly out of your lungs. Repeat this entire process five times and then relax for a few minutes.
    Exercise 12: Energizing Through Color
    • Sit or lie in a comfortable position, your arms resting easily at your sides. As you take a deep breath, visualize a big balloon above your head filled with a bright red healing energy. Imagine that you pop this balloon so all the bright red energy is released.

    • As you inhale, see the bright red color filling up your head. It fills up your brain, your face, and the bones of your skull. Let the bright red color pour in until your head is ready to overflow with color. Then let the red color flow into your neck, shoulders, arms, and chest. As you exhale, breathe the red color out of your lungs, taking any tiredness and fatigue with it. Breathe any feeling of fatigue out of your body.

    • As you inhale, continue to bring the bright, energizing red color into your abdomen, pelvis, lower back, legs, and feet until your whole body is filled with red. Exhale the red color out of your lungs, continuing to release any feeling of fatigue. Repeat this process five times. At the end of this exercise, you should feel more energized and vibrant. Your mental energy should feel more vitalized and clear.
    Affirmations
    The following two exercises give you healthful affirmations that are very useful for women with anxiety. As described earlier, anxiety symptoms are due to a complex interplay between the mind and body. Your state of emotional and physical health is determined in part by the thousands of mental messages you send yourself each day with your thoughts. For example, if fear of public places triggers your anxiety symptoms, the mind will send a constant stream of messages to you reinforcing your beliefs about the dangers and mishaps that can occur in public places. The fright triggers muscle tension and shallow breathing. Similarly, if you constantly criticize the way you look, your lack of self-love may be reflected in your body. For example, your shoulders will slump and you may have a dull and lackluster countenance.

    Affirmations provide a method to change these negative belief systems to thoughts that preserve peace and calm. Positive statements replace the anxiety inducing messages with thoughts that make you feel good.

    The first affirmation exercise gives you a series of statements to promote a sense of emotional and physical health and well being. Using these affirmations may create a feeling of emotional peace by changing your negative beliefs about your body and health into positive beliefs. The second affirmation exercise helps promote self-esteem and self-confidence and also helps to reduce anxiety. Many women with high anxiety lose their self-confidence and feel depressed and defeated by their condition. They feel frustrated and somehow at fault for not finding a solution. Repeat each affirmation to yourself or say them out loud 3 to 5 minutes. Use either or both exercises on a regular basis to promote healthful, positive thought patterns.

    Exercise 13: Positive Mind/Body Affirmations

    • I handle stress and tension appropriately and effectively.

    • My mood is calm and relaxed.

    • I can cope well and get on with my life during times of stress.
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    About The Author
    Dr. Susan M. Lark is one of the foremost authorities on women's health issues and is the author of nine books. She has served on the faculty of Stanford University Medical School...more
     
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    Aniseo wrote
    2/3/2010 11:45:00 PM
    Great tips for keeping healthy. All the exercises and other tips are definitely useful for me. Thanks for sharing.

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