Episode4 Segment 5 - Relaxation techniques and mindfulness

Fast Fact

Relaxation of your body and mind can help manage pain and emotions

It is well known that being relaxed can help to minimise and manage your pain. Muscle tension is common around body areas that are painful. Having tense muscles may even make the pain worse.

Learning to relax your muscles and mind will help with sleep, managing stress and anxiety, clearer thinking, and generally being able to cope more effectively with life’s challenges. Relaxation is a skill that takes some practice to learn and master. It is a way of you taking control of a situation. It is a life-long skill to have and well worth learning.

A useful first step in learning to relax is becoming aware when you are tense. Some people are tense a lot of the time and the feeling of tension has become normal. It will take some practice to change long-standing habits. But most people find they enjoy the difference.

There are many different ways to relax. Different people find different things help them to relax. Sometimes relaxation just happens when we are in certain places (e.g., lying in the shade by the water’s edge on a warm day). However, relaxation is something that we can learn to do any time any place. Relaxation techniques need to be portable.

There are broadly 3 different types of relaxation techniques and another technique known as mindfulness. These are all described below: (1) imagery, (2) progressive muscle relaxation, (3) focussed / slow breathing and (4) mindfulness. Context-specific relaxation is another method you can use anytime. In this lesson you will have the opportunity to learn more about these relaxation techniques and practice some of these techniques for yourself.

Pain Management Techniques

1. Imagery

Imagery is a form of relaxed and focussed concentration. It involves creating a mental picture of a place or event and involves the sounds, smells, noises, feelings and tastes a person would have if they were actually there. Imagery helps shift attention away from the present reality, allowing you to have control over where you would like to imagine yourself. Imagery helps to bring good feelings of the place or event you are imagining closer to reality ‘as if you are really there’. Focussing on a chosen or favourite event or place for your imagery provides you with the opportunity to "move away" from your pain for a period of time. Use of imagery is a skill that takes practice to master.

2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation

The Progressive Muscle Relaxation technique involves moving the focus of your attention to various muscle groups around your body and focusing on tensing, and relaxing these areas. There is no right or wrong order in which to work through different muscle groups, but you should include the following body areas:

  • Hands and fingers
  • Face (forehead, eyes, nose, mouth, jaw)
  • Back/stomach
  • Feet/toes
  • Arms
  • Neck/shoulders
  • Legs

3. Focussed / Slow breathing

Short, shallow breathing is a common but unhelpful response to stress. It can result in changes with carbon dioxide levels in the body and can lead to an increased heart rate, dizziness, muscle tension and other physical sensations. A breathing technique that may be a useful method of relaxation is the slow breathing method. Muscle tension and some of the other physical symptoms you experience will settle. There are more details about how to use deep breathing below.


4. What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a state of being completely in touch with the present moment. It means being aware, from moment to moment, of your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and the environment around us. It involves noticing little things that you might not have noticed before. The purpose is not so much about relaxing, but more on noticing things in a calm way. Two mindful techniques that can be done anywhere are focussed breathing and body scanning.


Context Specific Relaxation

Context Specific Relaxation

(e.g., listening to music; sitting in a favourite spot)

Remember, there are other ways we can relax. Sometimes they may require you being in a specific place or in a specific context such as:

  • Listening to music
  • Sitting at the beach (or other favourite place) on a nice day
  • Going for a walk / jog
  • Reading a book / magazine
  • Watching a favourite movie

Time and place for relaxation techniques

Mindful techniques like body scanning and focussed breathing can be used anywhere. They can be used on the bus, in the classroom, out with friends, or at home. In fact any time you notice your pain is getting in the way of you enjoying your life. It is also a good idea to do these exercises even when your pain isn't too high. Doing it around 3 times a day will make it easier for you to put into practice when your pain is intense.

Plan and Rehearse

Think about what is important to you, and plan how you might be able to get there. Look in a diary and start to see when and where you could start rehearsing some of these strategies to better manage your pain. Think of ways to reward yourself when you reach some of your goals.