Struggling with high anxiety and can’t relax? Anxiety is largely a body-based experience. And stress can be, too.
So therapists don’t just approach dealing with anxiety and stress by just using the mind, but also by using body-based techniques. One such tool has been around since the 1920s, and is called ‘progressive muscle relaxation’. It’s designed to counteract the fight, flight, or flee mode anxiety triggers.
It is a thorough system based on the idea that by purposely stressing the muscles then releasing, you create a level of relaxation right through the body. And it’s easy to learn.
Therapies like acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) would suggest we embrace and commit to learning from difficulties. They are opportunities for change, and for making new choices and decisions.
Harley Street counselling psychologist Caroline Powell suggests, “with yourself, your partner, friend, or relative, talk through a series of concise thoughts and ideas that might help you to modify the fearful feeling, should it arise again. The goalis always to motivate one another to find new ways of proactively affirming, valuing, reassuring and empowering each other by acting to foster acceptance and embrace change”.
You can use guided visualisation to create a ‘happy place’ you feel good being in when life gets too much. Or you can use it to imagine how you’ll deal with scenarios in the future, or to ‘redo’ situations you didn’t do well in so that you are ready for ’round two’ should it arrive.
Locked in without access to nature? Why not visualise it? A 2018 study on guided imagery published in Frontiers in Psychology found that nature-based guided imagery was more effective in reducing anxiety than non-nature based visualisation.
4. The Chair technique.
In self isolation and want someone to talk to or fight with? Why not tryGestalt therapy’s famed ‘empty chair technique’, and work through some issues while you are at it.
The idea here is to be open to discovery, and to go with the experience without assuming what will come out of it (Gestalt therapy is very much about acceptance, and of working with the here and now).
Choose a situation or person that you feel you have an issue with.
Sit across from an empty chair, and make the chair the person, situation or issue (yes, you can even make the chair the coronavirus).
Now talk to the chair as if you are talking to that other person/situation. Don’t edit yourself, just let words flow out, without judgement.
When you feel you’ve said all you need to say, switch chairs. And now speak back to yourself (the chair you just vacated) as the other person/issue/situation!
You can keep switching chairs, having a ‘dialogue’ until you feel a sense of peace.
If you are driving your own self crazy in isolation, and you are going into self judgement? You can also do this exercise with different parts of yourself. So on the chair is the part of you that wants to, say, contact your manipulative ex. Have it out with ‘her’ until you find a compromise.
You’ve heard of it. But have you actually tried it? Properly?
Mindfulness means being very present to what is, instead of caught up in worries about the future or regrets about the past. And in troubled times, when none of us quite know what’s ahead? It’s a super tool.
It’s not an overnight achievement. Note it’s often called a ‘practice’, because you need to devote a bit of time each day to it, before it starts to become a way of being.