In today’s fast-paced, stress-filled, slow economic growth, multi-tasking world – the art of relaxation is like speaking Latin – an almost forgotten, dead concept. But, if you are one of the 65 million Americans caring for a loved one who is ill, has disabilities or is just getting older and needs more help – finding a little “R&R” time for yourself is essential.
If you are like me – it is always hard to kick-start something out of the blue – most of the time I need a cattle prod to go to the gym, eat right or get enough sleep. So I am using today – which happens to be National Relaxation Day – to take a little time for myself and I encourage all caregivers to do the same.
Here’s how to get started – and the best part is – these tips are free and don’t take very much time but the reward is worth it!
Relaxation Tips from the Experts – Body, Mind, Soul
For the Body:
- America’s favorite MD – Dr. Oz – says relaxation can be as simple as breathing and only takes five minutes a day! Here is how: lie on your back, put one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. As you inhale, push your stomach way out to the count of “5.” After five seconds, a comfortable breath should be held and then exhale slowly – letting your stomach come down and really pushing that stomach down until your belly hits your spine. Repeat this 10 times in the morning and 10 times at night. You will feel amazingly relaxed and it helps with drainage of your lymphatic system which removes the toxins from your body.
- If you cannot get to a professional masseuse (I get my Groupon coupon for Massage Envy – well worth the $40-$50!) – you can do a little self-massage for free at home. Darrin Zeer, author of Lover’s Massage and Office Yoga advices placing both hands on your shoulders and neck. Squeeze with your fingers and palms. Rub vigorously, try to keep your shoulders relaxed. Next, wrap one hand around the other forearm, squeeze the muscles with thumb and fingers moving up and down from the elbow to the fingertips and back again. Repeat with the other arm. Aaahhhh!
For the Mind:
- The art of visualization is something that fascinates me and professionals say can really work. When you were a kid did you ever lie on your back and just stare at the clouds imaging their shape as animals or other objects? That state of Zen is what you are going for here. If you are in the office, take a little walk; if you are at home – take a 5 to 10-minute car ride to a spot where you can sit and escape for a few minutes. Maybe do some window shopping – imagine yourself in that adorable dress or shoes, or look into a bakery window and imagine the warm, hot chocolate being baked into the soft croissant, or just sit on a bench and people-watch and make up your own “movie” about the strangers walking-by (she’s a French spy being followed by the men in suits who are arms dealers in disguise – will she lose them in the crowd?). Or, you can just sit and close your eyes and imagine a place you would like to be – a hammock in the Bahamas, a gondola in Venice, a mountain top in the Himalayas. My favorite? I’m in a red convertible cruising down Pacific Coast Highway along the beach in California between Santa Barbara and Carmel with Mark Harmon (believe me – it works!
- Focus on just one thing. We are all juggling multiple activities – you have to pick the kids up from school, need to return that call at work, have to schedule the carpet cleaners, send that birthday card to your sister, and get to the cleaners before they close and on and on. Take five minutes all to yourself and just zone out. Read a magazine, go for a walk and listen to the rustle of the tree leaves or the tweeting of the birds, put on a favorite CD or radio station and sit or drive and really think about the song lyrics and how they move you, eat a pear and feel the soft prickly taste of fruit’s skin. By focusing on one sensory activity – seeing, hearing, tasting, touching — your brain relaxes and sends impulses to your other muscles to relax as well.
For the Soul:
- Give me some lovin’ – we all need a hug sometimes. But instead of waiting for the hug to come to you – be the hugger instead of the huggee. Scientific studies have shown that babies in neonatal units who were held and cradled for a few minutes a day thrived and survived versus babies who did not feel human touch. It is more than physical – it is soulful to get and give hugs. So, hug your dog or cat, give your husband or wife a squeeze at the end of a long, stressful day, hug your kids as they jump out of the car to get to school (of course if they are teens – forget it – they will not let you near enough to acknowledge they have a parent), or hug a friend over coffee or at the gym or office – just thank her for being there for you.
- Stay connected. When we are stressed or depressed, we have a tendency to become isolated – we tell ourselves “I’m just not in the right mood to be around people.” This can snowball on you and the effect can be serious implications to your health and wellness. Psychologist Deborah Rozman, PhD, co-author of Transforming Stress says that social interaction reduces your stress levels, helps your brain function more clearly and encourages you to see new solutions to current problems. So, take that walk with a friend, meet for coffee, talk to your brother who lives across the country – connect and it can help you relax (pick contacts that you know are supportive – it will not do you any good to connect with someone who adds stress to your life!).
I know it is hard to find even a few minutes a day to relax but it is critical to take as good care of yourself as you take of everyone around you. So get your R&R today – after all it is National Relaxation Day – so go on and celebrate you and the gift you give to those you care for!