Have you ever noticed how tense your shoulders can get when you're upset? Do you ever catch yourself with fists clenched with anger or tightness in your chest?
Whenever we're experiencing heightened emotions (either because of stress, sadness, anger, or nervousness), we have a corresponding reaction in our bodies. When we ignore that tension, what we're actually doing is telling our brain that there is danger ahead - that we need be prepared to fight or run away. Your brain receives that message from your body and can't seem to think about much else. You might notice that it's during those stressful times that you lash out on others.
We may not be able to instantly change or remove a stressor from our lives, but we can address our body's need to practice muscle relaxation. Doing so, we can alleviate physical discomfort, restore our mental focus, and possibly even enjoy a momentary break from our otherwise stress-filled lives.
So how to do you give yourself a clearer head? Give yourself a more relaxed body. Here's how:
- Sit comfortably but with your back straight and your feet on the floor.
- Close your eyes.
- Take three slow, big, and deep breaths through your nose. Try to imagine that you're filling your lungs up to your shoulders. Slowly let the air out after each breath in.
- Pick a body part to start with. We'll start with feet. As much as you can, tighten all the muscles in your feet. Clench them as much as you can for ten seconds. Count it out - when you get to ten, slowly release those muscles and let your feet completely relax. Try to imagine your muscles have almost become liquid in your body.
- Shift your focus up your body to ankles and calves and repeat step 4. Tense all the muscles in your ankles and calves and after ten seconds, release.
- Repeat for your knees and thighs, bottom, stomach and abs, lower back, upper back, shoulders, upper arms, lower arms, wrists, hands and fingers - and finally your face. You will probably feel incredibly silly tensing all the muscles in your face but rest assured, nothing will feel better than finally releasing it and letting your face settle back into a neutral position.
This exercise is called Progressive Muscle Relaxation. It can buy you time to cool off and get a clearer head. This exercise is beneficial all the time, but is actually most effective when you practice it when you're calm, too. Practice it often and it'll become a great habit - that way, it'll be something you automatically think of when you're feeling overwhelmed.
Practice it laying down and you'll find it's a great way to fall asleep! Enjoy.