I'm a highly strung person. I'm easily scared and have a hard time of getting to sleep. Relaxing is difficult for me. Which is part of the reason I started this series. To learn myself how to slow down, relax, de-stress, and deal with my depression and anxiety. Today I will talk about little methods that even me, a wound up person, has found useful for relaxing.
First, it's important to note that relaxing is different for everyone. We have several ways to relax. No relaxation method is better than another, and it's okay to find relaxation the way you do. Unless, of course the way you find relaxation is hurting and harming yourself or other people or animals. What works for me, doesn't necessarily work for you. I recommend exploring the various relaxation methods to find the best one for you.
There are days and times when nothing really works. The stress takes the best of you and unwinding is an impossible mission. Those days, in my experience, trying to relax usually only adds to the anxiety. "I can't even relax!" Also in my experience, those days get easier when you learn how to relax during the better days. Thus relaxation practices aren't only needed during the time of stress and anxiety.
Wound up and depressed people generally find help from physical exercise. Physical exercise can lower your blood pressure and heart rate, and ease muscle pain. As a doctor with psychology training once reminded me, humans are psychophysical beings. Your mind and body work together, thus body related issues can elevate and cause mental issues, and vice versa. I used to find running helpful, but unfortunately my knees didn't appreciate it. These days I try to do small exercise, such as series of squats and lunges, and small weights lifting. Walking also is very good, and while it's not a complete substitute for running, it is better than nothing. It also isn't as bad for knees. When I skip exercise for a while, I usually end up more wound up than other times. Not only physically (ow, my shoulders), but also mentally. Dancing can also be quite relaxing.
Breathing exercises may appear silly, but actually are quite helpful. Previously it was common to use a breathing exercise where you took a long deep breath through your nose and then a long deep breath out through your mouth, and repeat this a couple of times.
These days the most popular breathing techniques are called 4-4-4 or 5-5-5 or 4-7-8, depending on who you ask. In these techniques you breath in through your nose for four or five seconds (the first number), then hold your breath for four, five or seven seconds (the second number), and finally breath out through your mouth for four, five or eight seconds (the last number). This is repeated four to five times. My variation of this is taking a deep breath counting 5, holding my breath counting 5 to 8, and then breathing out as long as I can. This way I can get my heart rate down when I have a mild anxiety attack, and to relax my body. Some say this helps you to get to sleep immediately, but doesn't work that way to me. Breathing exercises are widely used and often recommended by medical professionals and therapists. Just remember to breathe.
Meditation is slightly more advanced, but the breathing exercises I mentioned above are already kind of meditation. Often meditation is thought to mean completely emptying your mind of thoughts, but that's silly. Your mind doesn't work that way. In meditation you give your mind a simple task, such as concentrating on your breathing, and try to keep on that task. If your mind wanders, as it does, you note that and concentrate back on the breathing. Instead of clearing your mind, you are learning to focus. You can also choose to focus on things such as the light and sounds around you. Take one thing to focus on and keep at it. You can begin by doing this for two minutes per day and slowly increasing the time. It's not a competition, nor a sprint, so give yourself time to learn it. You can also use apps or find guided meditations online, but these aren't necessary.
I find listening music highly relaxing. Of course, it depends on music and on my overall mood. Some days no music can unwind me, some days it takes '80s pop, some days it's rock or rap, some days it's smooth jazz and so forth. Music is very personal and we all have our own preferences. Don't let anyone tell you your taste of music isn't good. It may be bad for them, but good for you. You can add music to other relaxation methods, such as physical exercise, or to just sit down and listen to music without doing anything.
Other entertainment and art can relax too. Watching a good movie, getting laughs out of a stand-up comedy performance, reading a book, throwing your brains out with a silly television show, or a stroll through an art exhibition are all working ways to relax. They give your mind other things to concentrate on than what currently is stressing your mind, thus help you step away from the anxiety causing stuff momentarily. As with music, you need to sample different kinds of movies or books or other art to find the right stuff for you.
For me, drawing is quite relaxing. Especially I enjoy detailed pencil drawing, and beautiful braids are my favourite subjects. If you are interested to see my drawings, check them out at Society6. If drawing isn't your cup of tea you could try knitting, crafting, painting, sculpting, photography or other similar creative practices. As listening music, I've understood, making music can be quite a relaxing exercise. Try also writing, journaling and doodling.
There's this thing that's known these days as ASMR. It's an involuntary physical response to certain stimuli, such as listening whispering or softly spoken voice and breathing, or sounds caused by brushing a microphone, or watching someone attentively execute a mundane task, or personal attention, for example getting a haircut. These various stimuli cause "tingles", a euphoric experience on the skin that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back. I have found some ASMR stimuli quite relaxing. If you want to explore this, you can start by searching for ASMR videos on YouTube. There are many different kinds of videos by many different kinds of "ASMRtists". You can also find ASMR apps for your smartphone, or buy binaural recordings from various places. The YouTube ASMRtists often offer paid recordings of their video audio. ASMR can be used as an aid for meditation, and I do find it quite meditative.
Company of animals, including pets, is considered to be quite relaxing and stress relieving. However, animals are not for you and you aren't entitled to their company. If you decide to adopt a pet, do it for the pet rather than yourself. In the best case the pet will enjoy your company, and help you to unwind. This requires that you will take good care of the pet. I especially enjoy the company of cats, whilst dogs can intimidate me with their big size and overeagerness.
These are only some of the methods that are known to help with relaxing. I have concentrated on things that work for me, so the list is far from exhaustive. You may find relaxation in other things. These methods are here for you to get started or to explore new ways to unwind. What are your best relaxation methods? Have you tried the ones I listed here? Do tell in the comment section below this post.
Slow Sunday is a new series about slowing down, dealing with depression and anxiety, soothing your stress, relaxing, and getting over yourself. Do let me know if you have a specific subject you'd like me to write about. And please, share your personal thoughts and feelings about the subject in the comment area of the article.
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I'm Mervi Emilia Eskelinen, an artist and online presence strategist from Finland. I coach and consult indie businesses and bloggers to find focus with their branding, marketing and web. I have almost 20 years of experience, a bachelor's degree and some fun certifications in everything about digital media and marketing.