R-E-L-A-X-A-T-I-O-N: Why Is It So Simple Yet So Hard?

Welcome to this edition of the featured therapist BlogSpot where CBT Therapist Habibah Patel shares her approach to one of the most common difficulties faced by her clients; simply to relax and ‘switch off’.  Habibah tells us the importance of relaxation, how to honour our individuality when it come to the way we relax, and provides some key tips for increasing opportunities for relaxation in busy lives.

 

Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist Habibah Patel

Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist Habibah Patel

As a CBT therapist, my style of therapy tends to be goal focused and when I ask clients to set their therapy goals during our fist few meetings, one of the most common responses is to be able to “relax” and “switch off”.  It may sound simple but this goal can take some serious work to achieve. This blog will focus on relaxation techniques that work well alongside your cognitive and behavioural interventions.

I would like to firstly start this blog by explaining the importance of effective relaxation, and why we should pay it some serious attention.  Research has shown that it can result in :

  • Reduction in mental fatigue
  • Reduction in physical fatigue
  • Improved sleep
  • Reduction in stress hormones flowing through the body
  • Increased blood flow to muscles
  • And importantly, improved mood

“knowing how you relax is down to individual preference and understanding yourself

Therefore, it is key that time is spent in actually learning how to relax, rather than assuming it can come naturally. Often, one of the first obstacles identified when working with my clients is that people struggle with knowing A) what relaxes them and B) how to implement this effectively. In a world surrounded by social media, our newsfeeds can often be plastered with pictures and statuses claiming “doing nothing day for me” or “duvet day today”.  For me personally, I can’t think of anything worse. In fact, sometimes doing nothing for a whole day can make me feel more wired and fatigued! And this is exactly my point, knowing how you relax is down to individual preference and understanding yourself.

What we need to bear in mind is that relaxation is a way of ridding the body and mind of the stress that has built up over the course of the day.  Switching off the mind can be difficult, particularly if we are anxious or depressed.  My advice would be to see relaxation as a skill and something that needs to be practiced, rather than a given.  With this in mind, it takes the pressure of people who might then be plagued with a depressed thought “Look at me, I can’t even relax properly” or an anxious thought “this isn’t working, I’m never going to be able to relax”.

I often advise visual imagery as a first point of reference when people are struggling to ‘relax/switch off’.  Guided visual imagery is powerful because it transports you away to a calming place and gets you to immerse yourself in the scene. The best was to do this is to involve all your 5 senses to engage both the mind and the body.  For example, rather than just imagining yourself on a tropical beach, ask yourself what sounds you can hear? How does the sun feel on your skin? How does the sand feel in between your toes? Can you taste the salt of the sea in your mouth? Describe the different shades of blue of the water.  The more we engage with the image with our mind and body, the more soothed we feel.  Guided visual imagery audios are readily available on YouTube and I would suggest having a look for some audios online to practice with initially.  Once you are familiar with the concept, you may not need to rely on audios and will be able to transport yourself to your calming place by simply closing your eyes and going somewhere quiet.

“The key is to involve your mind and your body”

Effective relaxation can also be achieved by regularly engaging with our hobbies. I will always ask clients what they enjoy doing to guide our discussion about relaxation; this is because when one is in a state of enjoyment, they are already naturally more relaxed.  I would strongly encourage engaging in a hobby that involves both the mind and the body.  Some examples would be gardening, arts & crafts, exercise, dancing, cookery or a jigsaw puzzle. A television show, reading or browsing through FaceBook can often be futile when we are unable to switch off as our minds often wander and unpleasant thoughts begin to creep in.  My second piece of advice would be to start off for a small amount of time, such as 10 minutes.  Pottering in the garden or sketching for a few minutes might be enough to distract yourself from unpleasant feelings and thoughts. The key is to involve your mind and your body. If we bear in mind the type of activity and the amount of time we are spending, we can start to re-engage with hobbies in a positive manner.

So there was my whistle stop tour of effective relaxation; using visual imagery daily and engaging with mindful hobbies.  Remember to start off for short periods of time, and most importantly, view relaxation as a skill that needs work to build and maintain.  Practice relaxing at times when you are feeling less ‘wired’ and it will be easier to implement when you more stressed! 

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