by Guest Blogger Jeannie Campbell, LMFT
I am grateful to the Inkwell ladies for having me back on their blog for self-help Friday!
Any of you in the full-on summer-busy mode yet? It seems that we look forward to summer so much…kids are hooraying to be out of school, vacations are being planned, and family get-togethers are much more common. But with summer also comes the missed schedules and routines. Everything is different; fun, yet completely out of whack.
How can we stay grounded during the stressful time that comprises summer?
I brought with me some of my more common anxiety management techniques that can be done at any time or place. (Don’t be thrown off by “anxiety management.” Anxiety in the psychology world really is just another synonym for stress. We’ve all got it—whether it’s diagnosable or not.)
Hopefully you’ll have a chance to try these out. I do them with clients in therapy all the time, and it truly is amazing what a difference they can make in the moment. So whether the barbeque is burning, the van gets a flat, or the hotel unexpectedly lost your reservation, give these techniques a shot to reclaim some control over your chaotic summer!
You can do this technique standing or sitting, although I prefer clients to sit. If you were in my office, I'd say close your eyes, but if waitresses are taking orders and lifeguards are milling around, just leave them open. The instructions are simple:
1) Slowly count to 3 as you take a deep breath in through your nose
2) Hold your breath for 3 counts
3) Let the breath out through your mouth for 3 counts
4) Hold for 3 counts
5) Repeat a few times/as needed
You can increase the count to 4 if this suits your lung capacity better. But just taking the time to focus on breathing can relax you almost instantly. I don’t think humans realize how much directed oxygen to the brain can really help. We breathe as an automatic reflex, but when you do it purposefully, suddenly you have that moment “to just breathe” that on many busy days, we often claim we never had a chance to do.
This second technique builds off the first. Mindfulness is bringing yourself into the present moment, relaxing, and becoming aware of your breath, thoughts, feelings, surroundings and sensations. You give your self-critical, controlling mind a rest and accept the moment with peace and non-resistance. (Yes, sounds a little new-agey, but it works and you won't need to go to church afterward to repent.)
Since anxiety lives in the body as chronic tension, just breathing can help undo that tension, which restores balance to the body and mind. It's hard to remember your breath (because it’s so automatic), so setting aside time to do so amidst the hustle and bustle of summer will help you relax.
1) Sit as relaxed and still as possible
2) Don't try to control your thoughts - just observe your breath and other sensations/sounds. Don't engage your thoughts, just let them come and go
3) Focus on breathing or heartbeat or the rise/fall of your belly/chest
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
PMR is when you tense and relax various muscle groups in your body in a progression. You hold the tension for about 10 seconds and then relax, noticing the difference between relaxed and tense. You usually work bottom to top, right to left. I usually play a nice CD when I do this with clients, but I’ve also done it to myself in the dead quiet of night right before sleep.
a) Right foot, calf, thigh, entire leg
b) Left foot, calf, thigh, entire leg
c) Right hand, forearm, bicep, entire arm
d) Left hand, forearm, bicep, entire arm
g) Chest (fill and hold lungs)
j) Face (stretch out forehead and cheeks by exaggeratedly mouthing the vowel sounds—if you’re kids are nearby, you might want to leave this part out. They will laugh at you.)
One or all of these techniques will bring you back to a more relaxed state of mind this summer. Remember, God is master of your stress!
Jeannie Campbell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. She is Head of Clinical Services for a large non-profit and enjoys working mainly with children and couples. She has a Masters of Divinity in Psychology and Counseling and bachelors degrees in both psychology and journalism. Two of Jeannie’s “therapeutic romance” manuscripts have garnered the high praise of being finalists in the Genesis Contest for unpublished writers, sponsored by the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), of which she is an active member. She writes a popular monthly column for Christian Fiction Online Magazine and has been featured in many other e-zines, newspapers, and blogs.