Every now and then things happen in life that throw your equilibrium. Events happen that may be completely outside your control, life gets too busy, we have illness close by, we lose people we love, political changes we don’t like might come about, jobs can be lost and those we love might struggle. The result can be that we find ourselves tired, run down yet unable to sleep, anxious, stressed and wondering what on earth will happen next.
There is a lot of online advice about what to do when this happens, what we should eat, what we shouldn’t eat, how we should move, what we should and shouldn’t do before bedtime – some of this advice will be useful, some of it complicated and some of it just plain bizarre. The internet can be a fabulous source of information and an amazing recourse as people share their knowledge and experiences – but it can also be dangerous if we use it on its own to self-diagnose and scary if we believed everything we read. “Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true” is an often-used phrase in our household.
So this blog is not going to offer a ‘cure all’ solution to dealing with stressful times in life but instead just shares something I have found useful in such times.
Often as we get stressed and anxious, we breathe more shallowly. Our bodies physically tense up, we don’t relax our shoulders, our intercostal muscles don’t relax properly, we end up gritting our teeth (and sometimes our buttocks!) and the result is that we don’t breathe as deeply as we should. Massage of course will help our bodies to relax but we may not always have a massage booked at that time that we are feeling stressed or anxious. Relaxing our bodies and focusing on our breathing can help to unlock this, different people will find different ways to do this but here is what I do:
Take myself off to another room, usually the bedroom but sometimes my treatment room, close the curtains and turn off the light so that the room is shaded or dark.
Lie down without a pillow so that as the neck and shoulders start to relax they can naturally stretch back to where they should be – the shoulders that start rounded should ideally finish by making contact with the supporting surface you are laying on.
Cover myself up – even if its summer I will use a light cover, in winter a duvet – your body needs the warmth and psychologically being covered gives us comfort.
I usually, but not always, put music on. I have a CD that is simply a recording of the sea, as the beach is my ‘happy place’ listening to the waves on the shore creates positive links in my brain. I also use some of the free resources on You Tube that are available just by searching for ‘relaxation’ or ‘anxiety’.
Then as I allow my body to start to sink into the surface below me I will focus on my breathing. When I first started doing this I would place one hand on my chest and one on my belly. The aim is that the hand on the belly rises and falls with each breath more than the hand on the chest. This ensures that you are breathing deeply and not ‘surface breathing’, if you look at a baby or young child breathing their whole abdomen will move up and down with their breath as they breathe naturally and fully. As adults we can forget how to do this and this exercise is a reminder of that. As you establish this breathing you can just allow your hands to move to rest wherever is most comfortable. As you breathe more deeply you will find that your muscles start to relax. There are good physiological reasons for this so this exercise is about relaxing both body and mind – just giving yourself some time out.
I usually put music on that lasts a few minutes less than the time I have and, probably about 50% of the time I do this, I fall asleep. When the music stops I will usually wake up but you can also do this at night in bed and then just turn over and go back to sleep.
When you wake or the time you have is coming to an end, give yourself time to come round and to be aware of how much deeper you are breathing and how much more relaxed your body is. Being aware of how your body is when it is in a relaxed state then allows you to start to become aware of when this changes and you are starting to get tense again so that you can do something about it before it gets too bad.
This doesn’t of course change the stresses, bring back the losses or cure the problems, but it does give you a space within it to relax, a chance to know that you will in time work through the difficulties and find your equilibrium again even if at the moment that seems impossible. Suggesting someone breathes can sound a strange thing, we are clearly all breathing to be alive, but that deeper, calming breath sometimes needs some work to achieve.
If you want to also try the sardine only diet while bathing in the tears of unicorns that of course is completely your choice!