Mindfulness and Relaxation Strategies

What is Mindfulness and Relaxation Strategies

Mindfulness is the process of non-judgementally observing your thoughts, emotions and sensations as they come and go, with an attitude of curiosity and acceptance. Mindfulness can help us develop our ability to deal with difficult emotions by strengthening our capacity to observe things as they are and to be fully present in our lives. A conscious focus on the present moment and activity we are engaged in will slow us down, ground us and create a re-set to a busy mind.

Mindfulness can be developed over time with practice. One basic practice or ‘meditation’ involves intentionally placing your attention on your breath and observing each rise and fall. It is natural that your mind will wander but a large part of the practice is being aware of when this happens and being able to gently redirect your mind to the present and back to the breath.

How does Mindfulness and Relaxation work?

We all face stressful situations throughout our lives, ranging from minor annoyances like traffic jams to more serious worries, such as a loved one’s grave illness. No matter what the cause, stress floods your body with hormones. Your heart pounds, your breathing speeds up, and your muscles tense.
This so-called “stress response” is a normal reaction to threatening situations, honed in our prehistory to help us survive threats like an animal attack or a flood. Today, we rarely face these physical dangers, but challenging situations in daily life can set off the stress response. We can’t avoid all sources of stress in our lives, nor would we want to. But we can develop healthier ways of responding to them.

The practice of mindfulness or relaxation techniques can lower our baseline level of arousal and allow us to encounter more stressors before we become distressed.

The most common relaxation techniques include slow deep breathing, body scanning where we focus systematically on our body consciously relaxing each section sequentially and progressive muscle relaxation. In progressive muscle relaxation technique each section of our body is consciously tensed and then relaxed. One aim of this technique is for the client to learn what a relaxation response feels like when contrast with tensed muscles.

What is Mindfulness and Relaxation used for?

There are a broad range of applications for mindfulness and relaxation with the most obvious being to address stress and anxiety. Many commentators cite the benefits mindfulness on general wellbeing, life satisfaction and happiness.

What can I expect from Mindfulness and Relaxation?

You are likely to be taught a range of techniques for relaxation and focusing on the present. These might be scripted or audio recordings that you could play and follow the prompts and instructions.

You may be encouraged to practice mindfulness through internal narration or description as you engage in routine task like eating or walking.

What mental health issues is Mindfulness and Relaxation most helpful for?

There are a broad range of applications for mindfulness and relaxation with the most obvious being to address stress and anxiety. Many commentators cite the benefits mindfulness on general wellbeing, life satisfaction and happiness.

When doesn’t Mindfulness and Relaxation work?

We all have a range of defence mechanisms or strategies to protect ourselves from pain and trauma. We should ensure that we have sufficient resources and support if we are going to let go of these defences through mindfulness and relaxation practice.

Things to consider before choosing Mindfulness and Relaxation Training

Acknowledge that this approach or collection of techniques requires practice outside and between sessions. You will get as much out of this approach as you invest in practice. Note the caution regarding a relaxation of defences that may enable painful material to surface.

Dr Malcolm Winstanley-Cross - Psychologist at Counselling in Melbourne


This content has been researched, prepared and written by Counselling in Melbourne psychologist Dr Malcolm Winstanley-Cross.

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