by Chris Cleaver, Physiotherapist.   We live in a world of Pressure, encountering stress around every corner. That stress can come in many forms, such as the anxiety of watching England in a World cup Penalty Shoot Out or even the feeling you get when your favourite non-celebrity is about to be voted out of the Love Island Villa (I won’t tell you which one I’m more bothered about). We know that the role of stress is very important. It heightens our fight or flight response, raises our heart rate and allows us to focus and perform better in Physical tasks. However, there are many negative aspects to Stress, especially if we feel it over a long period of time. These include:
  • Increased risk of Heart Disease,
  • Reduced Mental Health,
  • Poor sleep,
  • Development of Musculoskeletal conditions,
  • Reduced Life expectancy
Hmm… it seems pretty handy to learn how to chill out hey? Relaxation techniques are proven to help us reduce stress and these are the reasons why it’s useful
  • It lowers your stress levels and breaks the vicious cycle between pain and stress/anxiety.
 With practice you can learn to control the unpleasant physical sensations that accompany the stress response.
  • It helps you to cope with the symptoms of stress in particular situations.
If you can learn to recognise situations when you are becoming increasingly stressed, you can learn to control your nervous system and bring about relaxation.
  • It helps you to function more efficiently.
Relaxed people are better at communicating, more efficient and can handle difficult situations with increased ease. There are two ways that we shall be looking at trying to achieve the relaxation response:
  1. Relaxed Breathing
  2. Emergency Stop Technique
  Relaxed Breathing: Breathing is closely connected with our emotions. It speeds up when we are stressed and it will slow down when we are relaxed or asleep. In order to manage stress we need awareness and control of our breathing pattern. During stress we tend to restrict our breath Depth. Restricting breathing, however, leads to tension and tightness of the chest and abdominal muscles. Tense muscles work less efficiently and lead to more pain. By learning to ‘let go’ of tension in the chest and the abdomen and having the ability to breathe deeply and consistently, we can break this pattern of shallow breathing. Diaphragmatic breathinginvolves using the diaphragm (a large domed muscle) efficiently and allows relaxation of other respiratory muscles of the chest. Method:
  1. Lie comfortably on your back with your spine straight and fully supported. Place a pillow under your knees or sit comfortably in an upright chair.
  1. Place one hand over the upper abdomen and relax the muscles of the shoulders, chest and abdomen.
  1. Breathe in slowly and feel the abdomen rise up under your hand whilst the chest remains still.
  1. Breathe out and feel the abdomen sink back down under your hand.
  2. Practice taking 4-5 deep breathes every 30 minutes.
  Points to remember:
  • Relaxed deep breathing becomes easier and more natural with practice.
  • If you become light-headed performing deep breathing, alternate two regular breaths with two deep breaths.
  • Always start your relaxation session with breathing exercises, feeling tension releasing as you breathe out.
  The Emergency Stop Technique Often, we find ourselves in stressful situations and can recognise the stress response beginning. It may be inappropriate at that moment in time to go through a deep relaxation method i.e. when we’re waiting for an appointment or sitting in a traffic jam. The following technique helps us to cope with the immediate situation.
  • Acknowledge that you are stressed and recognise the feelings.
  • Say sharply to yourself aloud, if the situation permits, STOP!
  • Breathe in and hold your breath for a moment.
  • Slowly breathe out and relax your shoulders and hands.
  • Pause for a moment and then breathe in again.
  • As you breathe out slowly, relax your forehead, face and jaw.
  • Stay quiet for a few seconds and then go on with whatever you were doing previously. Move smoothly and slowly.
  • If you have to talk, speak a little more slowly and with your voice a little lower than usual.
Often our posture can indicate that we are experiencing stress e.g. the shoulder muscles feel tense and result in a stooped or raised shoulder position. If you notice this, try some deep breathing and notice how your shoulder position changes as you relax. The emergency relaxation technique can usually be done without anyone noticing and you will find, in spite of your feelings, the tension decrease. I can now guarantee that reading this advice has allowed your stress response to reduce…for now at least… I recommend trying these techniques regularly, in order to get into healthy habits. Chill out!

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