How to Relax: A Longer Script
The following relaxation process is a very mindful script intended to shift your attention and start taking control of breathing as a way to jump-start the parasympathetic nervous system. There is no magic, just basic steps (some that you already do) that should result in you feeling more relaxed, quickly.
Practice doing the full sequence at least once a day for two weeks during times of lower tension before you start using it in more urgent situations. Additionally, there is no set amount of time that this takes. It could last as little as a minute or two, or go on as long as you like.
1. Orienting: 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. Orienting allows us to start relaxing by recognizing our immediate surroundings.
2. Grounding: 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, artwork in front of me, the fact that my air purifier is making a humming noise, I taste coffee in my mouth, smell the lavender lotion I put on my hands, and the air in my office is pleasantly cool.
3. Slowing: 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. The pace doesn't matter, it should just be something that feels good to you. The key is having the exhale really stretch out much longer than the inhaling. Try and make the exhale smooth and have almost all of the air leave your body. Do it with the counting as long as you need to get the pace down before going to the next step. For me this takes a couple minutes.
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.
If 4-7-8 is not feeling right for you, try starting with 4-4-6.
4. Coaching: 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 ofthat person telling them those things. Keep doing this along with the breathing until you feel sufficiently ready to reconnect with what you were doing.
5. Emerging: 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.
Remember to practice this everyday, especially during times of lower stress, because the effect is cumulative. Meaning, the 20th time you do this should have a faster and greater impact than the first. If it doesn't work right away, stay with it and keep going.
Throughout our work together, we will constantly be coming back to relaxation. Why? Because it’s the only thing that works to center you, to help you focus and re-focus, which ultimately brings you closer to your goals.
And it makes you a happier person, too!