Over many decades, we have overlooked the mind-body connection and many people are truly unaware of just how much we need to pay attention to our thoughts, our feelings, and to creating a sense of peace or calm for ourselves. It is not only significant for mental health, but also relates to our physical health as well. Additionally, it is relevant to our social relationships, as the more stressed we become, the less able we are to offer ourselves to our family and friends.
Many of my clients come to me without a sense of how to soothe themselves. There are many ways to achieve this and people can benefit from utilizing a variety of sources of calming activities and practices. For example, we are often soothed by our relationships with others, when they are calm and positive influences in our lives. Sometimes this may mean spending time with your significant other or a close friend, and sometimes this may occur through organized group activities, such as a religious group or even a team activity. Exercise is another great way in which people can relieve a bit of stress and promote overall well-being and any form of exercise you enjoy, will do! In addition to this, there are specific relaxation practices that can help to soothe one’s self. In therapy, I often train clients in deep breathing practices, visualization, or progressive muscle relaxation techniques. Most clients report back to me how much they enjoy these activities and how they had not previously realized the extent of their tension or stress, or the degree to which they can calm themselves.
When considering relaxation techniques, two elements have been identified which seem to be sufficient in creating a break from anxious or worried thoughts and help to shift the individual into a more calm, soothed state. Dr. Herbert Benson has studied meditation and found that two elements are key:
1. Focus on something (it could really be anything: your breath, a number, a word, an image)
2. When other thoughts arise, re-focus (return your thoughts back to the thing you originally
It is through focus that we can shift our minds away from worries, preoccupations, details, and to-do lists and make a break in the stressful, anxious chain of thoughts to which our minds have become so accustomed in modern days.
Spending just a little time each day using a relaxation technique that includes these two elements can help to decrease your body and mind’s stress response. If you have the time to practice this daily, do so! If not, find little ways to create small spaces for practice. For example, you can spend just a minute or two before a meeting, when you arrive at a destination, or before a meal, simply breathing, focusing on the breath, and disallowing for intrusive thoughts. You may be able to do this several times a day, ultimately achieving 10 or 20 minutes of practice throughout the day. While more practice is better, any practice at all is good. And, as you start to become familiar with the feeling and effectiveness of relaxation, you may find you make more room for it in your busy day.
If you really want to make a positive change, consider joining a yoga or meditation class. These offer scheduled, social opportunities for regular and continuous practice, with the support of an expert who can help you learn to become more in-tune with yourself and your body. And, of course, don’t forget that psychologists, too, can help you learn and develop these skills as well.