Do you worry that the Coronavirus pandemic has made relaxation a thing of the past?
Is this worry creating additional stress in your already hectic life? And does that stress feel overwhelming some days?
You’re not alone.
The Household Pulse Survey, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) and the Census Bureau, confirmed that the rates of anxiety and depression are on the rise across most demographics.
It’s no wonder.
Human life has been altered in ways not experienced since the pandemic of 1918. Negative changes to how we live, work, and play have caused increased tension for people worldwide. Many businesses and jobs have been lost. For those lucky enough to still be employed, working from home poses specific challenges. Essential workers are exposed to the virus everyday. Parents have assumed the roles of teacher as schools shut down. Senior citizens face ongoing isolation from family members who are fearful of infecting them.
So, is it even possible to observe this year’s National Relaxation Day?
While we can’t magically make Covid-19 disappear, it’s more important than ever to find ways to unplug from the constant worry. And there are things we can do to ease the apprehension it’s causing in our lives.
Relaxation simply means obtaining a state of calm in one’s mind, body, or both. Because the brain is home to our emotions, the mind and body have a strong connection. The various methods to relax one or the other often work for both.
Relaxation Techniques for the Body
- Yoga – Involves movement, breathing exercises, and a focus on thoughts and feelings as they happen (mindfulness).
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation – The process of tensing a group of muscles as you inhale and relaxing them as you exhale.
- Physical Activity – Walking, bicycling, or anything that requires physical movement, which get the endorphins or “feel good” hormones flowing.
- Massage/Back Rub – Stress causes cortisol to be released into the bloodstream, which then cause muscles to become rigid. Massaging the muscles can help to release the tension.
- Warm Beverage – such as herbal tea or warm milk. (No alcohol or caffeine!)
Relaxation Techniques for the Mind
- Mindful Meditation – Studies show that regular meditation can alter the brain’s neural pathways making us more resilient to stress.
- Breathing Exercises – Slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure.
- Guided Imagery – Imagining a calm, peaceful setting helps us relax and relieves nervousness.
- Warm Bath, Soothing Music, Being in Nature – Activities that impact our senses can create calm. Even just looking at images of nature can help.
- Writing/Journaling – Getting our thoughts and concerns on paper are helpful.
There are significant benefits to relaxation. A calm mind leads to clear thinking, which results in improved decision-making. We’re better able to resist stressors, which makes for a more positive outlook overall. Achieving a tranquil mindset also reduces the risk of illness and disease.
Too much anxiety causes both physical and mental problems. Poor sleep, headaches, and the exacerbation of any current health issues can result. Forgetfulness, appetite swings, and depression often create irritability, among other things, and a reliance on drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms.
Writing/Journaling for Relaxation
The advantages of writing for relaxation are well-established. It encourages problem-solving by putting the issues down on paper. It promotes mindful integration of events by engaging both hemispheres of the brain through exploring and releasing emotions. The writer also gains self-knowledge by clarifying thoughts and feelings.
However, it doesn’t work for everyone. Folks with disabilities, or people reluctant to relive difficult memories may not benefit. Perfectionists can get hung up on the format, structure, frequency, or even the type of journal to use – paper or computer?
Regardless of who is journaling, it’s important to build in potential solutions, the things that you appreciate, and what gives you hope.
I remember receiving a diary as a youngster in elementary school. While I didn’t write consistently, there were periods of regular, rather feverish scribbling. Those usually centered around special events or milestones. Holidays, birthdays, a first crush, and a broken heart were chronicled throughout the pages.
It got me to thinking about why we record our life experiences and how it benefits us. When nothing much was happening I only wrote periodically, musing about mundane things like what I had for dinner and who got the lead role in the school play. But, when important stuff occurred I filled up the allotted space, spilling over into the next day.
I realized that to successfully deal with overwhelming emotions, both good and bad, we must adequately express ourselves. This is why clear communication is so vital to relationships, including the one we have with ourselves.
Being able to share feelings is also crucial. When we’re happy we want our world to celebrate with us. When we’re crushed we need our world’s support.
Expressive Writing for Relaxation
Specifically helpful for stress and traumatic life events is something called expressive writing.
Dr. James W. Pennebaker of the University of Texas conducted a majority of the research on the benefits of this type of writing. His studies showed that the impact of expressive writing on physical conditions such as cancer, HIV, and migraines was positive. The same thing is true of one’s emotional condition. Over time it helped with relaxation of the patient and outcomes were more favorable.
It takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a habit to form. This is why daily writing is encouraged. The goal is to make it a regular part of your day, but the writer chooses when and where.
Another important aspect is to “free write.” The object is to get as many thoughts, ideas, and feelings on paper as quickly as possible. All inhibitions must be released and no attention should be paid to grammar, spelling, or punctuation. It’s totally confidential and won’t be graded.
Four Elements of Expressive Writing
- Expressive writing prompts you to think about your experiences and express buried emotions. This is significant because writing helps to organize thoughts and assign meaning to emotions, a critical first step to acknowledging any pain or unhappiness.
- By fostering the intellectual process regarding a situation, you’re better able to regulate emotions (thinking with your head versus thinking with your heart.) Expressive writing helps to accomplish this and can also stop any brooding or ruminating that you may be doing.
- Writing confidentially reassures the sense of safety, while clarifying your thoughts. It assigns well-deserved value to the experience and can inspire you to reach out for social support, which is often needed.
- Timing is important. Writing too soon after a traumatic event can make matters worse. Therefore, Dr. Pennebaker recommends waiting 1 – 2 months.
Writing is therapeutic when you need to vent or unload negative emotions; think about the posts you often see on social media!
It’s a helpful first step before we sharing private affairs, but we’re wise to remain anonymous until then. We need time to process our sentiments in a rational way.
We’re social creatures that reside within a community and our need for a supportive network is strong. Whether we’re celebrating or mourning a loss, it’s gratifying to have someone to share a toast with, or lend a shoulder to cry on.
So, if relaxation is eluding you these days give writing a try. You’ll likely become better acquainted with yourself and achieve a sense of peace amidst the ongoing chaos.
“Your writing voice is the deepest possible reflection of who you are. The job of your voice is not to seduce or flatter or make well-shaped sentences. In your voice, your readers should be able to hear the contents of your mind, your heart, your soul.”