Sometimes we feel so overwhelmed with stress that we forget that even tiny and simple activities and actions can help to calm our minds, give us energy, and make us feel better.
- Take a walk or a jog
- Read a book or magazine
- Listen to the radio
- Read poetry
- Write poetry
- Give a hug
- Have a picnic
- Watch a favorite show or movie
- Be with children
- Talk with a friend
- Get a bouquet of flowers
- Do some doodling or art
- Turn on some favorite music
- Take a nap
- Knit, crochet, or quilt
Do some of these sound good? The best way to actually do them is to make specific plans about when and where you will do them! (For example, “I will take a 10-minute walk around the SECU Family House grounds on Monday and Wednesday after I get back from the hospital.” Or “I will write down 10 things I’m thankful for at bedtime tonight.”) Build these into your schedule…Because your well-being is important!
Does breathing deeply really help you relax? You bet!
One of the best things about deep breathing is that it can be done anywhere and can quickly make a difference.
The key is to breathe deeply from the abdomen, getting as much fresh air as possible in your lungs. When you take deep breaths from the abdomen, rather than shallow breaths from your upper chest, you inhale more oxygen. The more oxygen you get, the less tense, short of breath, and anxious you feel.
Here is an easy but powerful exercise:
- Sit comfortably with your back straight. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
- Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise. The hand on your chest should move very little.
- Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose…2, 3, 4, 5, 6.
- And now, breathe out slowly through your mouth…2, 3, 4, 5, 6.
- Continue breathing at your own pace, counting if it’s helpful. If your mind becomes distracted by thoughts, try to focus on your breathing again.
You may like to pray or focus on special words while you’re breathing deeply. For example, you may say to yourself: “I’m breathing in the Holy Spirit (while you inhale)…I’m breathing out peace (while you exhale).” Or “Peace (while you inhale)…Hope (while you exhale)”
Try this lying on the floor, while you’re in the car or on the shuttle bus, while you’re in the waiting room, while you’re at dinner, and while you’re falling asleep at night. If you need reminders, put sticky notes in strategic places like on your bathroom mirror and on the dashboard of your car that say BREATHE!
Visualization, or guided imagery, invites you to imagine a scene in which you feel at peace, free to let go of all tension and anxiety.
Some people appreciate imagining a beach while others may choose a mountain view, a favorite childhood spot, or a place they visited during a memorable vacation. The important thing is to choose a location that is peaceful to you.
Find a quiet, relaxed place.
Close your eyes and let your worries drift away. Imagine your restful place. Picture it as vividly as you can—everything you can see, hear, smell, and feel.
Here is an example of a script of an Evening in the Mountains:
Make yourself comfortable and close your eyes as a way of closing out any unnecessary distractions.
Imagine yourself walking up a wooded path toward the edge of a beautiful mountain overlook.
You hear the ground crunch beneath your feet, the leaves rustle. The grass on each side of the path tickles your legs as you take this quiet walk.
As you get closer to the overlook, the trees part and you look up and notice that the sky is starting to turn a beautiful shade of blue and pink as the sun begins to set. You see a few clouds in the sky, and they start to change colors as well.
As you continue up the path, you can see the distant mountains looking dark blue and green, and you notice their silhouettes as the sun begins to set behind them.
As you get to the overlook, the breeze blows against your face, and you hear the wind as it whistles past you. You take a deep breath. It smells like the forest.
You sit down on the rocks. They feel cool. Little patches of green moss and silver lichens grow in the seams and crevices. You touch the moss and notice how soft it is. A little ant makes its way around the moss and into the dirt at the edge of the rock. You move a pebble out of the ant’s path.
The mountains in the distance look dark and beautiful. The setting sun has turned orange and pink now, and the clouds have turned a bright pink and purple.
You hear birds around you, and a cricket or two.
As you sit in this peaceful place, you notice the harmony of nature around you…the coolness of the breeze, the smell of the woods, the solidness of the rock underneath you, the colors projected on the evening sky. A feeling of peace surrounds you…You take another deep breath.
You sit here and rest a while longer…relaxed in the moment…This is a time of peace and stillness. Listen longer. Relax some more.
When you’re ready, you begin to shift your weight and stand up. You stretch your arms above your head. You look at the view and feel thankful for this time.
You begin to walk back down the path that brought you to this peaceful place.
Take a deep cleansing breath, and open your eyes.
Consider doing some guided imagery when you’re waiting for test results, sitting in the waiting room, or lying in bed before going to sleep. You can find videos, audio, and additional scripts of guided imagery on the internet.
Progressive muscle relaxation is an opportunity to systematically tense and relax different muscles in your body. This exercise gives you a chance to be aware of the places where you hold stress and then to release that tension. As your body relaxes, so will your mind. You can combine deep breathing with progressive muscle relaxation for an additional level of stress relief.
- Begin in a comfortable position, sitting up or lying down.
- Take a few minutes to relax, taking slow, deep breaths in and out.
- When you’re relaxed and ready to start, shift your attention to your feet. Slowly tense the muscles in your feet, squeezing as tightly as you can. Hold for a count of 5.
- Relax your feet. Focus on the tension flowing away and the way your feel as they become limp and loose.
- Stay in this relaxed state for a moment, breathing deeply and slowly.
- When you’re ready, shift your attention to the large muscles in your thighs and buttocks. Follow the same sequence of muscle tension and release.
- Move slowly up through your body, contracting and relaxing the muscle groups as you go. Do this with your abdomen and chest, your back, your hands and arms, your neck and shoulders, and your face.
- Now take another deep breath in, and when you’re ready to breathe out, allow any remaining tension to flow out with your breath…and your whole body to be even more deeply relaxed…
This exercise may take some practice! As you practice, you may find that you can do versions of it while you wait in the hospital room or sit in the waiting room. It can be simple yet powerful experience!