Relax: Embarrassing Confession

So last night I tried Tricia's method.  Unfortunately, I have a really shallow tub (it really is!  I thought that when I first moved in here), so the bath probably could have been better if I had Jon's jacuzzi tub (which doesn't work, by the way), but it did help.  I hit target after work and got some vanilla almond bath salt, which was nice.  Afterward, I felt like rubber, though, and just went to bed... around 7:30.  Suck.

So here's my embarrassing confession...  I should have no problems with stress.  I hold a psychology minor, so I understand a little bit about stress and aggression.  Not everything, mind you, but the thing about psychology is that you should be able to overcome a phenomenon once you understand it.  Example: there's this social psychological phenomenon (well-documented, by the way) called "the bystander effect," in which people will watch someone in distress and not do anything about it.  Several years ago, there was this woman walking in a mall, and she slipped and fell and broke her ankle... and then laid on the floor for two hours in a daze while people just walked past her.  It's not their fault.  It's something our brains just do.  We just kind of assume someone else is going to help.  Or here's something that more of us could probably relate to: how many times have you driven past someone on a busy road who was stranded?  But on a relatively deserted road, you've probably pulled over to help.  That's the bystander effect.  But now that I've told you about it, chances are you're going to be more self-conscious, and the next time you see someone who needs help, you're going to be more likely to help them.  That's how a lot of this shit works.

So... let's talk about stress and aggression.  Research proves that if you indulge those aggressive feelings (like your therapist might actually tell you to do, by punching or pillow, or "scream therapy," which was popular in the 70s), you're actually going to increase your aggression.  That feeling of catharsis you get after screaming or punching a pillow?  That's just you being exhausted from all of the screaming and punching.  So when you feel angry or stressed, the best possible thing you can do is something completely opposite - closing your eyes and counting slowly to ten, taking a leisurely walk, breathing deeply for two minutes.  THAT is how you relieve stress and aggression.

But the real embarrassing admission here is that I actually held a certification in clinical relaxation techniques a few years ago.  Yup.  I sure did.  I was certified to teach people techniques for de-stressing.  I could have whored myself out to big companies and taught those people certain techniques to relieve stress.  I didn't, but I could have...

So I have no excuse for succumbing to stress.  So, I'm going to dust off my knowledge about it and put it to use.  Part of the reason that I kind of shied away from it is that there was SO much emphasis on the spiritual, and if you haven't figured it out already, I'm an atheist... so that stuff just doesn't work for me.  But there were a few things that I did find helpful, and I'm going to share those with you now:

1.  PMR or Progressive Muscle Relaxation
In order to practice the PMR technique, you should take about 20 minutes to sit quietly by yourself (or with someone else who is practicing PMR).  Focus very carefully on your fingers, and try to consciously remove any tension from them.  You should be able to feel them go limp.  Then your wrists, your arms.  Next your toes, your ankles, your knees, your hips.  Then think about every vertebrae in your spine, and try to let go of all the tension.  Move up to your shoulders and let it go.  Your neck.  Your face.  By the time you're done, you should feel like you have no muscle tightness anywhere, and the 20 minutes you used to sit quietly and do this should help as well.

2.  Yoga-form Stretching
This is similar to Yoga, but can be done from a chair.  It's hard to tell you how to do this, but try sitting quietly and slowly stretching.  People who want to try this at home and LIKE Yoga can certainly do it, but remember that the purpose is not for fitness - it's for relaxation, so you shouldn't attempt poses that are particularly difficult for you.  Do what you can, or modify it so that you feel the stretch and so that you aren't expending a lot of effort in concentrating on balance.  It should be easy and relaxing - not challenging like Yoga for fitness and balance should be.

3.  Meditation
I'm sure most of you are probably familiar with some form of meditation.  Really, it's not too difficult.  Just sit quietly for about 20 minutes or so, and clear your mind.  To do this, it might help you to first mentally construct a room that is really relaxing to you.  Focus on what it would smell like, if there's a breeze or not, the tactile sensations you get from sitting or laying down on the furniture in the room.  Once you've settled yourself into your room, try to really place yourself there and focus on nothing but the sounds and smells and feelings of the room.  More traditionally, many people like mantras.  Mantras, in a meditation sense, are simple sounds that you can repeat over and over again to yourself, either out load or in your head, that are comforting to you.  The ultimate goal of the mantra is block out unpleasant thoughts to keep you focused on... nothing.  "Ohm," which I'm sure you're all familiar with, is probably the most popular mantra.  Try just focusing on "ohmmmmmmmmmm" and nothing else.  The goal is to not think about ANYTHING... we could get into eastern/buddhist/hindu/zen philosophy, but we won't.  The goal is nothingness.

If you wanna try any of these, I'd love to know what you think.  There are a couple of more techniques, but I prefer not to use them because they focus more on spirituality and "finding something bigger than yourself," and cynical me... I think that's bullshit.  I think I'm going to devote some good time to meditation after work today.  :)


Dina said...

Shallow tubs are the work of the devil!

Tricia said...

Oh yeah, shallow tubs suck. That's a drawback of the new apartment we're moving into...smaller tubs. I will miss my long baths.

I have a really hard time shutting my brain up so I can relax. It's led to so many sleepless nights. I remember my therapist trying to lead me into hypnosis by chanting "Calm and relaxed" in my head with each breath in. It calmed me down a bit but I never felt like I slipped into a hypnotic state and I still had thoughts that crept in no matter how hard I tried to block them out. Some people close their eyes and fall asleep. I wish I had that "OFF" switch. I'm going to try your suggestions because I feel like I don't know how to truly relax. I'll let you know how it goes.

FatGirlSlim said...

Tricia, the thing about hypnosis is you have to susceptible to it. If any ounce of your brain is telling you it's bullshit, it won't work. If you can't be hypnotized, just chalk it up to your innate pragmatism and good sense. Only the weak-minded can be hypnotized.

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