THE 5-STEP ULTIMATE RELAXATION TECHNIQUE
So when you are feeling activated, stop what you are doing, and follow these 5-steps:
The first step is intentionally orienting yourself to your surroundings. This means visually and mentally recognizing where you are right now and what is around you. If I did this right now, I'd look around the room and recognize that I am in my office, at 4:05 p.m., with the sun shining. This step may seem silly or obvious, but when we are anxious, tense, or angry, we are almost never paying attention to our immediate surroundings. Instead, we are usually consumed with our thoughts or feelings related to things that are not present where we are. Orienting allows us to start relaxing by recognizing our immediate surroundings, which are hopefully calm, stable, and safe.
The second step helps shift your attention to how you are connected to your environment. Since relaxation is a physiological process, it is important to direct your attention to your senses. So for this step, intentionally notice ways you are connected to your surroundings. For me right now, that would mean I intentionally notice my feet on the floor, my back against the chair, and how my sweater feels on my arms.
This third step will now bring your attention to what is happening inside you, particularly your breathing and heart rate. Although there are a lot of ways we can learn to change the way our body responds in any given moment, the easiest is to control our breathing. There are dozens of breathing techniques, but the one I have found to be the easiest to use is called "4-7-8 Breathing". It works like this:
Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet on the floor, and close your eyes. Once you are settled and notice your breathing, inhale through your nose for a count of 4, hold it for a count of 7, exhale through your mouth for a count of 8, and repeat. While doing this, you should really start to notice some changes in how you are feeling, most obviously a slowing heart rate. That is your parasympathetic nervous system going into action.
Once you have the breathing pace down, keep doing it while you move to this step. The key here is giving yourself positive, reassuring, and calm messages, rather than continuing with the tense, anxious, and angry thoughts. When I do this, I think things like "I can get through this. It will be OK. I can handle whatever happens. I am going to calmly do my best." Everyone will have a different way of doing this, and some people like to imagine this in the voice of someone they care about, or with the image of that person telling them those things. Keep doing this along with the breathing until you feel sufficiently ready to reconnect with what you were doing.
The key in this final step is calmly reentering the world. Rather than just stopping this process and jumping back in, focus on going back to what you need to do with the same peace you might have when you wake up from a nice sleep; just gently getting back into the flow of your day. This should keep your mind and body both staying in a more relaxed and positive state.
Thanks to Dr. Will Meek. His entire post is available at: