A Caregiver’s Guide to Relaxing
As a caregiver, it is essential to check in with yourself to understand your feelings and emotions. Read our Caregivers Guide to Relaxing and learn some relaxation exercises that can help to relieve tension, decrease worry, improve sleep and make you generally feel more at ease.
Practice relaxed (diaphragmatic) breathing
The diaphragm is the muscle that controls breathing. It is a dome-shaped muscle that sits beneath the lungs, above the abdominal cavity. The diaphragm flattens out when a breath is taken, allowing the lungs more room to expand with air. When air is exhaled from the lungs, the diaphragm returns to its domed shape. Though breathing is an automatic function, the movements of the diaphragm can be controlled voluntarily with training.
This allows the most efficient exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide with the least effort, promotes relaxation, improves circulation, removes waste from the blood, slows down the heart and breathing rate, and generally frees the mind.
It would be best if you practiced diaphragmatic breathing frequently for short periods. At first, maybe 10-15 times per day- 1-2 minutes each time. Some phones and smartwatches have breathing apps that can assist you. Try to practice in different situations such as laying down, sitting, standing, on a bus/subway. With practice, relaxed breathing can become a quick and easy tool to combat stress.
- The best position for relaxed breathing is lying down on your back or sitting in a chair.
- Breathe in through your nose slowly in a gentle, natural way.
- At the same time that you breathe, gently expand your belly to fill it with air, keep your shoulders and chest as still as possible.
- Breathe out through your mouth, empty your belly and let it relax. As you breathe out, purse your lips to create a slight resistance to the exhale to keep it slow. Breathe out as slowly as you can, making each exhale last.
- When you finish, wait quietly until your body naturally takes its next breath.
- Take your time.
- Be sure to breathe in a slow, gentle, and natural way. If you become dizzy or light-headed, take smaller breaths and slow down.
Take Time to Relax Your Muscles
Muscle tightness/tension is the body’s signal that we are under stress. Learning to relax your body not only helps prevent muscle tension from turning to pain but can calm you as well. Muscle relaxation trains you to be aware of the tension in your body and control tight muscles that respond to stress. There are two types of muscle relaxation: passive relaxation involves relaxing different muscle groups by thinking about them. In contrast, progressive muscle relaxation allows you to focus on and relax by first tensing then releasing, automatically forcing the muscles to relax.
- Begin by getting into a comfortable position and closing your eyes. Use some relaxed breathing to calm yourself.
- Relax your whole face; start with your jaw and tongue. Are you clenching your teeth? Are you pressing with your tongue? Let all the muscles in your jaw and tongue relax. Allow your teeth to be slightly parted naturally. Your tongue should be loose inside your mouth, resting against the back of your teeth.
- Next, pay attention to your eyes and forehead. Make sure you are not squeezing your eyes shut or furrowing your eyebrows. Let your eyes close so that your eyelids barely touch. Your whole face is completely relaxed.
- Next, relax your shoulders. Let go of all the tension in your shoulders, let them drop, and allow any feelings of stress in your neck to flow away. Let your shoulders and neck muscles sink into a pleasant state of comfortable relaxation.
- Relax your arms, hands, and fingers. Are you flexing a muscle? Are you gripping anything with your hands? Let your arms feel heavy and relaxed, like a floppy rag doll.
- Let any feelings of tension in your back, chest, or abdomen dissolve and flow away. Let yourself become limp and relaxed with every breath you take.
- Relax your legs, feet, and toes. Let go of any tension from your legs. Let your legs’ muscles sink into a deeper and deeper state of pleasant comfort. Make sure you are not pressing your feet or toes. Let your feet and toes become entirely relaxed.
- For the next minute or so, let your entire body become more and more relaxed. Enjoy this feeling of comfort and relaxation, and when you are ready, open your eyes slowly and remain quiet for another minute or two.
Create a Special Place with Imagination & Visualization
This is used to focus your mind on something pleasant and comforting to relieve stress and anxiety. Imagery incorporates all 5 of your senses, sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. It would be best if you tried to practice until it becomes natural for you.
Your Special Place:
To begin, lie down and get comfortable. Close your eyes. Use some relaxed breathing to calm yourself. Take slow, deep breaths.
- Picture yourself in a quiet, unique place. A place that is very beautiful and feels peaceful and safe. You are all by yourself and feel relaxed, secure, and at peace in this quiet special place. It can be a natural place such as a beach, lake, forest, field, or mountain. Or somewhere else like a garden, a church, a favorite room, or somewhere you’ve been in the past.
- Picture yourself in this quiet, special place as vividly as you can using all of your senses. Look around, notice what you see, the colors, shapes, what the light is like. Perhaps the blue of the sky or the reflection of the light upon the water. Notice what you see in your special place.
- Notice the sounds that you hear. Perhaps the lapping of water against the shore or the sound of the wind rustling in the leaves. Listen to the sounds of your quiet, unique place.
- Notice the smells in the air. Perhaps the smell of the saltwater, the fresh, clean scent of country air, or the smell of pine needles in the forest. Notice the smells.
- Feel how warm or cool the air is against your skin and picture where you are. Are you lying down? Sitting? Leaning against something? Standing?
- Use all of your senses to make this special place as vivid and real as you can. Memorize the smells, sounds, and sights. Continue to enjoy being in your special place for a minute or two longer. Allow yourself to relax even more deeply. Remind yourself that you can come back and relax here whenever you want. When you’re ready, slowly open your eyes and continue to remain still, and enjoy your relaxation for another moment or two.
Make Time to Meditate
This can be done by repeating a particular syllable, word, phrase, mantra, silently or aloud, or focusing on a fixed object or action. It does not matter what word, object, or activity you choose to focus on. Meditation allows you to see that you can choose to ignore thoughts that pop into your head and control your emotions. The point of this exercise is to attempt to keep your mind on the selected word or object, and when your mind wanders, to bring the focus back on the original word or object.
- Sit comfortably in a chair with your legs apart and your hands in your lap.
- Keep your back straight and your head up with your chin tucked in slightly.
- Close your mouth and breathe through your nose. Position your tongue softly on the roof of your mouth. Close your eyes or focus on a spot on the floor.
- Take deep abdominal breaths but do not force them. As you breathe, focus entirely on your breathing. Pay attention to the feelings inhaling and exhaling.
- As you exhale, say, “one” to yourself. Continue counting each time you exhale by saying “two, three, four,” then begin again with one. If you lose count, start again at 1.
- When you notice that your mind has wandered, gently return to counting your breathing.
- If a particular sensation in your body catches your attention, focus on the feeling until it disappears. Then return your attention to breathing and counting your breaths.
- When you first begin to practice, maintain the meditation only for as long as it is comfortable. Even if this is only for 5 minutes per day, it becomes easier, and you will want to extend the time as you practice.
- There are many other forms of muscle relaxation, visualization, and mediation that might be right for you. If you want training on these techniques, you can ask your physician to refer you to a cognitive-behavioral psychologist or therapist.
At MJHS, we value both personal and professional caregivers and recognize the critical work you do. That is why we have created these online caregiving resources to help you through this crucial time in your life.
If you need additional help and support caring for your loved one, please feel free to contact MJHS. We can recommend other care options available to you through one of our programs.