Help Has Arrived.
Thank you for taking the time to join us in learning how to confront the challenges during these unprecedented times in history.
The instructions, stories, features, and exercises that appear here as well as those that will occur over the next several days are designed to help the American people cope with the fears, anger, and uncertainties the lockdown has produced as well as the transition back into the world of work. And it makes no difference what physical shape you are in or if you are religious or not. There is only one thing needed to take full advantage of these insights, and information and that is to have a willingness to see new things with an open mind.
There are so many questions and concerns as to what is the best thing to do. Should we live in a bubble or toss the mask away and devil-may-care. The unprecedented step of shutting down the entire U.S. economy indeed produces fertile ground for stress, anxiety, and depression.
We all suffer pain at some point, and stress and depression can produce real physical pain in our bodies. Someone once wrote that when looking at psychological or emotional difficulties, whether it be anxiety or depression, to first look for physical causes. Are we sleeping enough, which means are we getting our full 7 to 8 hours of undisturbed sleep? Are we eating healthy, nutritious food, or are we consuming loads of sugar and fats or drinking too much alcohol? Do we have high blood pressure, have a problem with our thyroid, or pain from arthritis?
As with any significant change in our daily activity, we should start with a full physical exam at our doctors' office and rule out if our emotional distress has a physical source.
Ok, so let's say we pass our physical exam with flying colors and are still wrestling with tough emotions.
We shouldn't reach for that pill or drink just yet. Also, try to remember that COVID-19 and the shutdown are temporary. Like the clouds that drift across the sky, these kinds of restrictions and difficulties always come and go, come and go.
Medication has a place in combating anxiety and depression and may be used in conjunction with other forms of therapy and exercises. The good news is that many powerful and proven techniques and practices have high success rates and require no medication. They allow the body to relax to the point where the pain is dispersed, eliminated, or significantly decreased.
So on this first day of taking back control of our lives, we will be learning "Deep Muscle Relaxation."
There are plenty of published books regarding deep muscle relaxation (DMR) that are excellent sources of information that give step by step instructions. But there is no need to purchase those resources because we are going to be explaining them in detail right here.
For the following, we will be using part of the DMR procedures found in the health library of The University of Michigan. Still, the techniques are identical in many other sources.
Deep muscle relaxation is a method that helps the person release tension by first providing the body with a tool to help identify how tense muscles feel. We may have been anxious and nervous for so long that we can no longer differentiate between a tight and tense state and a relaxed state.
DMR is powerful when, in the beginning, it is practiced every day. Does that mean it must be practiced every day for the rest of your life? Not at all. As you practice and get better at DMR, you will quickly identify tension and release that tension almost instantaneously. There will come a time when you will no longer have to think about DMR because it will be a natural and automatic response.
When your body is physically relaxed, you cannot feel anxious. The objective of DMR is to tense a group of muscles as you breathe in and relax them as you breathe out. And to feel the tension and compare it with relaxation. The gold inside this exercise is knowing when your muscles become tight and tense.
So, let's get to the nuts and bolts of the steps involved. First, remember to lie or sit down when you do these exercises. We will work on muscle groups in a specific order.
The first muscle group will be the hands. First, let your hands rest at your side or on the arms of a chair. As you breathe in, you will clench your hands into a fist and hold that clenched fist for five seconds. And as you grasp your hands, focus on how your hands feel. Try to focus on the sensation of how a clenched fist feels.
At the end of five seconds, immediately release your grip as you breathe out. (do not relax your hands gradually; it's all at once). Focus on how your hands feel relaxed and compare that feeling with when you were clenching them. Now, wait three seconds and repeat the process two more times before moving onto the next muscle group, the wrists, and forearms.
Extend your wrists and forearms, and bend your hands back at the wrist. As you bend your hands back, breathe in for five seconds and focus on how your wrists and forearms feel. Try to focus on the sensation of how bending your wrists and forearms feel. At the end of the five seconds, immediately unbend them, letting them drop as you breathe out. Focus on how your wrists and forearms feel relaxed and compare that to when you were bending them. After three seconds, repeat the process two times before moving onto the next muscle group, which will be the Biceps and upper arms.
Clench your hands into fists, bend your arms at the elbows, and flex your biceps. As you bend your arms at the elbows, breathe in for five seconds and focus on how your hands, arms, and biceps feel. Try to focus on how clenching your fists, bending your elbows, and flexing your biceps feel. At the end of the five seconds, immediately unclinch, unbend and release the flex, letting them drop as you breathe out. Focus on how your hands, arms, and biceps feel relaxed and compare that feeling with when you were tightening them. Wait three seconds and repeat the process two times before moving onto the next muscle group.
The next muscle group that seems to hold a lot of tension is the Shoulders. It seems a lot of stress is kept in the shoulder area leading to headaches, backaches, and more.
So, start by shrugging your shoulders (raise them toward your ears). As you shrug your shoulders breathe in for five seconds and focus on how your shoulders feel. Try to focus on the sensation of how shrugging your shoulders feel. At the end of the five seconds, immediately drop your shoulders as you breathe out. Focus on how your shoulders feel relaxed and compare that feeling with when you were shrugging them. Wait three seconds and repeat the process two times before moving onto the next muscle group.
The remaining muscle groups are practiced in the same way. These are the forehead with a frowning wrinkle, the eyes, and bridge of the nose by squinting your eyes and tightening the nose as tightly as you can. Next is the cheeks and jaws by smiling as widely as you can. Then press your lips together tightly, followed by pushing the back of your head against the floor or chair. Then work the front of the neck by touching your chin to your chest. Work the chest by taking a deep breath and holding it for 4 to 10 seconds. The back by arching your back up and away from the floor or chair. The stomach by sucking into a tight knot. The hips and buttocks by pressing your buttocks together tightly. The thighs by clenching them. The lower legs by pointing your toes toward your face. Then point your toes away, while curling them downward at the same time. There you have it.
Of course, you don't have to practice all the muscle groups on the same day. Try maybe two or three muscle groups a day for a week and then move on to the next group. And remember it's practice, not perfection.
NEXT we will be looking at our inner voice and what it might be saying to us that contributes to anxiety and depression.