In the aftermath of a traumatic event, it is not unusual to feel anxious, stressed or constantly on your guard. Not only are these emotional states extremely tiring for both mind and body, they can get in the way of your recovery.
Taking the time to relax—be it for several hours or just a few minutes—can be very beneficial. There are many strategies to help you to relax at home or elsewhere.
Finding what works for you
Sometimes, all you have to do to relax is do something you enjoy. Ask yourself, “What makes me feel good? What do I really enjoy doing?” Make a list of what spontaneously comes to mind. Then, the next time you feel the need to relax, just choose one of the activities from your list that suits the present moment.
Examples of relaxing activities:
- Soaking in a warm bath
- Practising yoga
- Listening to soothing music
- Cleaning up, doing housework
- Drawing, painting, writing…
Anxiety can provoke abnormal breathing, which leads to a lack of oxygen. Breathing from the diaphragm (the dome-shaped muscle that separates the lungs from the abdomen) helps to slow your heart rate and allow you to relax.
How to do it
- Place one hand on your belly and the other on your upper chest.
- Breathe in slowly, letting your belly rise. Hold and count to 4.
- Breathe out slowly by tightening your abdominal muscles. Hold and count to 4.
- Repeat as many times as necessary.
- At the end of the exercise, get up slowly to avoid feeling dizzy from the increased oxygen in your blood.
Throughout the exercise, the hand on your chest should remain still.
If you have never done this type of breathing before, it is recommended that you do this exercise lying on your back on the floor or on a mattress. Once you feel more comfortable, it can also be done seated or standing.
A quick search on the Internet will identify many applications for breathing exercises for you to choose from.
There are 1,001 ways to practise meditation, but one of the simplest for beginners is guided meditation. This technique consists in letting yourself be guided by a voice that accompanies and leads you through the meditation process. To get started, check out one of the hundreds of guided meditation videos and podcasts on YouTube and Spotify.
Sometimes it’s hard to find time to take the time to meditate. But you don’t have to be sitting or lying still to meditate!
Walking meditation can be a good solution if you have to go somewhere on foot or want to combine physical activity and meditation. The exercise consists in putting one foot in front of the other and concentrating all your attention on the process of walking. You could start by focusing on the sensation of your feet touching the ground, move on to the swinging of your arms, then your breathing… Sometimes you’ll find that your mind wanders off and you lose focus: it really doesn’t matter. Whenever you realize that you’re thinking about something else, simply gently return your attention to the physical act of walking.
Doing relaxation exercises can sometimes lead to discomfort or unease. If that happens, just stop. The counsellors on the Sexual Violence Helpline are always available to listen to and provide support for people experiencing flashbacks or discomfort. They can also suggest other types of relaxation techniques or accompany you while doing a particular exercise.
Relaxation doesn’t necessarily come naturally—it’s something you have to learn and practise regularly. Many experts say that you need to do a relaxation exercise several times in order to gain long-term benefits.
Sometimes, however, our anxiety can be so intense that we lose contact with the present moment and it becomes impossible to relax. When that happens, there are anchoring techniques that can help feelings of panic to subside (see our article on Anchoring Techniques).