Tag Archives: sleep relax relaxation meditation mindfulness

Relax

One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important – Bertrand Russell

Ask yourself an important question. Are you a Meerkat or a pussycat? After seeing a particularly stressed client today it occurred to me that the process of relaxation is a dying art form. Pussycats tend to have mastered it, but Meerkats have some way to go. Much of my work involves asking people to relax, and then talking with them, either directly or by getting them to pattern-match, and then having their subconscious mind figure out quite quickly the solution to the problem. I should say at the outset that relaxation has nothing whatsoever to do with hypnosis, even though there are many relaxotherapists out there who call themselves hypnotherapists. In my own work I like to associate relaxation with hypnosis because it is helpful for people to leave my rooms having an immediate sense of well-being and comfort, and that something ‘nice’ happened to them. That means they’ll come back and pursue treatment until they have achieved their goals.

But learning to relax is likely to have a significant positive impact on your emotional and physical health. Worryingly, when asked how they relax at home, many of my clients tell me that they watch television. I do realise that the goggle box in the corner of the room plays a major part in many people’s lives, but it may be worth considering what is actually happening to your brain when you are sat in front of a TV screen. Your orientation response is firing rapidly and continuously, in a bid to hold your attention in an almost trance-like state so as to avoid you chopping channels. It’s designed that way, just to hold you into the programme, and some modern camera and editing techniques were developed with exactly that in mind. Interestingly, the process is making you weary but it is also heightening your arousal, not relaxing you. You may wish to consider what this may be doing to children’s brains just before bed time, let alone your own.

There is a strong argument for seeking out ways to relax which are useful to the brain and the mind, and which promote physical well being at the same time. I’ve been teaching mantra meditation for many years as a useful path to mindfulness and a simple way of enabling the body to relax. It does take a daily investment of time, usually a minimum of twenty minutes each day, but it can be a most helpful path in the pursuit of contentment and peace of mind. It is a very easy and simple process, and it is nothing to do with any kind of mystical religious belief, or anything like it. I can highly recommend it, and I am increasingly encouraged by research demonstrating clear benefits in the use of mindfulness meditation. I have taught it to hardened prison cons, to children in schools and in boardrooms in the UK and the USA, and it is probably the single most powerful tool that anybody can take away with them and use for the rest of their lives. It is not easy, but it is very simple, and merely requires a daily commitment.

Regular readers, or those that listen to my radio interviews, will know that the simple art of breathing consciously and proactively can promote the parasympathetic nervous system into allowing the body the luxury of relaxing, whilst the mind is busy focusing on the simple and natural act of breathing. The technique I suggest to my clients is called 7/11 breathing, and any reader is welcome to email me to get their free and easy breathing instructions.

Another very effective method of letting go of the day’s stressors and tensions is through progressive relaxation. This involves various different methods of tensing each muscle group in turn and then consciously releasing that tension. It can be very effective in helping you to just physically unwind, allowing your body to begin the natural process of repairing and restoring itself.

There is always the option to use alcohol or other drugs to relax at the end of each day. I greatly enjoy a glass of good wine or Champagne if the occasion arises, but for some the self-medication trap is a dangerous one from which it may be difficult to escape, and when you realise the damage it’s doing it may be too late. Alcohol may make you feel drowsy but the quality of your sleep after just a couple of glasses of wine could be compromised. If your default position is to have a drink at the end of each day just to enable you to relax, you may already be some way down a rather slippery slope. Just make the decision when you want to get off that slope, and do it. Are you in control, or is it controlling you? Either way, it’s not doing a lot for your relaxation skills. Importantly, alcohol suppresses R.E.M. sleep, that part of the night when you are discharging your otherwise undischarged emotional arousal of the previous day. I am never at all surprised when I get calls from young men in their early twenties suffering from panic attacks, with the first attack usually presenting the day after a heavy night of binge drinking.

Of course, you may be of the persuasion that exercise is the panacea to help you, so a good brisk walk for twenty minutes each day will leave you feeling relaxed afterwards. Or you may prefer one of the many guided-visualisation CDs on the market, which will lead you through a very relaxing journey, during which you may well fall into a deep and restful sleep. Again, email me if you would like advice on what and where to buy.

It really will be worth investing in a method of relaxation that works for you, and do please enjoy it. Don’t wait until you need an appointment with me to deal with unexplained and frightening phenomena in your own life, fuelled by stress. Take a preventative stance to maintaining good emotional health – just relax – that’s right.

Based at The Grove Clinic in St. Peter Port, Guernsey, John Halker is a Psychotherapist and Clinical Hypnotherapist using the Solution-Focused, Human Givens approach to his work. He also applies those principles to his work in coaching and relationship counselling. You can find out more about John and his work at http://www.grove-clinic.com. In Guernsey call 01481 729911 or in London call 020 7193 2842.

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