It’s common to experience feelings of stress or anxiety right now. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, our schedules have been turned upside down, and the future may feel unpredictable.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to help help ease your stress. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends:
- Connecting with others
- Eating healthy foods
- Making time to unwind
- Nourishing yourself with sleep
- Taking breaks from the news
If you’re doing these activities regularly, you may want to learn a couple more. Two effective, alternative relaxation techniques that are easy to learn are progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery. Anyone can learn these techniques, and you can do them at home, which makes them perfect during this time of social distancing.
Keep in mind that the more you practice these skills, the more helpful they are in easing stress. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
Prepare to Relax
Before you get going with progressive muscle relaxation or guided imagery, you’ll need to unwind a bit. Take these steps:
- Find a quiet, comfortable spot to practice
- Sit up or lie down
- Have a blanket or sheet handy
- Take a few minutes to think about your breathing, and try to focus only on inhaling and exhaling
- Consider playing soothing music, if that helps you relax
How to Do Progressive Muscle Relaxation
First, take in a deep breath. Hold that breath for a count of four, let it out and begin to relax. Do this about four times.
As you breathe in, think about good, soothing energy flowing in. As you breathe out, imagine that you’re letting go of your stress and anxious thoughts.
Next, allow your mind to focus on one body part at a time. Move from the top of your head all the way down to your toes, in this sequence:
- Relax your head and your scalp, unfurrowing your brow
- Relax the muscles around your eyes, squeezing your eyes shut for four counts, then relax
- Notice the difference in your eyes and face when your eyes are squeezed and tense and when they’re relaxed
- Focus on your mouth, next, relaxing your tongue and unclenching your jaw
- Relax your neck muscles, then your shoulders
- When you get to your arms, you may relax them one at a time or both at the same time
- Move all the way down to your toes using this skill
Tips for Tense Muscles
We store stress in several different muscles, and stress may cause parts of your body to feel especially tense. As you move down your body, you may want to tighten and then relax those body parts, like your shoulders and jaw. This helps to show how different your body feels when it’s tense and when it’s relaxed.
You can practice tensing and relaxing your eyes, hands, toes, mouth and shoulders. As you practice more, you should feel more relaxed as you move down your body.
As an additional consideration, warmth often feels good. Try thinking about any part of your body being warmed by the sun. For example, if your right shoulder has pain, focus on this arm. Think about warm rays of sun falling on your arm as you relax.
How to Do Guided Imagery
It’s best to practice this skill after doing progressive muscle relaxation. Once your body is relaxed, you can allow your mind to rest, too.
First, think about a special image or place. This can be a place you’ve visited or a made-up location, but it should be relaxing to you. Some examples might include a warm, sunny beach; a sparkling lake; a trail in the woods; or a snow-capped mountain.
Now, think about the whole scene. What does it look like? What do you hear or feel? What do you taste or smell? Be as detailed as you like.
Remember, your image should be a place where you can be completely relaxed. It’s a place with no stress or worry. Best of all, you can go to this place in your mind whenever you need a break.
Example of a Guided Imagery Scene
If you need some guidance to get into guided imagery, it often helps to envision the details of the scene, using your senses. What would you feel, hear, smell and see in this relaxing place?
Here’s an example of how you could approach guided imagery, noticing the details in the scene:
I am lying alone on a beach in the late afternoon sun. It’s nice and warm, but not too hot. The water is aqua blue, with small whitecaps close to the shore. The sky is light blue, with a few white puffy clouds. I am lying with my feet to the water, with the sun to the right of me.
I can feel my warm beach towel under me and warm sand on my hands and feet. I feel the soothing sun on my body. I hear seagulls flying overhead. I hear sea grass swaying in the breeze behind me. I hear some children playing in the sand, but I can’t hear what they are saying. The water is gently lapping on the shore endlessly.
Be Gentle With Yourself as You Practice These Techniques
You might find yourself falling asleep during either progressive muscle relaxation or guided imagery. It’s OK if you do, and it doesn’t mean it’s not working. It may mean that your body needs the sleep. Allow yourself to enjoy the rest that comes with a relaxed body and mind.
Don’t forget, progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery take practice to help you relax. Consider building them into your schedule as you continue to stay at home to avoid getting sick from coronavirus.
We’re Here to Help You Through This
We’re here to help you and your family feel informed and find healthy ways to cope during this time. For more tips on dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, visit our Coronavirus Resource Hub. We’re continually updating this site with important information that can help you stay healthy in body, mind and spirit.