Relaxation techniques are activities that generate a feeling of complete peace and calm. Making time to relax can bring health benefits for everyone, including those with MS.
Relaxation is an active skill that requires practise. Like sleeping, you can’t force a state of relaxation. It requires mental rest as well as physical and so differs from passive activities such as watching television or reading. It’s also not the same as sleeping.
Regular relaxation can help you decrease tension in muscles, lower your blood pressure and slow your heart rate. It can help with fatigue as it promotes good sleep patterns, increases benefit from rest periods during the day and can be used to reduce your stress levels.
Types of relaxation
Finding the right relaxation technique for you may take time. You may want to try different techniques for different purposes, eg deep breathing to help you relax before sleeping and visualisation techniques to boost your energy levels during the day. It’s entirely up to you – different techniques suit different people.
The following list contains a few examples you could try, but there are many more.
Most of the time we don’t think about our breathing. However, focusing on how you breathe and creating a slow, deep and even pattern can help you to feel calmer and more relaxed. It can also distract you from any stresses or worries you may have.
I find deep breathing encourages and increases relaxation and sleep. I breathe in for seven seconds and breathe out for eleven. I repeat this several times.
Visualisation involves using your imagination to go to a relaxing place. This could be somewhere you’ve visited, seen on the television or in a magazine, or somewhere entirely from your imagination. The knack with this technique is focusing on all the senses to experience in detail what you can see, hear, smell, taste and feel within your chosen scene.
I try to make time for a rest during the day. Visualising myself on an empty beach with cold water lapping over my feet is great!
You may find it helpful to use gentle background music or photos of places with happy memories. There are also apps, videos, audiobooks, podcasts and CDs available with audio that guides you through relaxing scenes. Finding the right combination of voice, speed of speaking, music and subject matter for you may take some experimentation.
Muscle relaxation techniques
These techniques help you to relax various muscle groups in your body. This helps you to feel calm and relaxed whilst helping you identify areas of your body which are particularly tense.
There are many books, videos and online resources that explain techniques and exercises in more detail, but the basics are usually the same.
- Set aside some quiet time to concentrate on the exercises.
- Lie or sit comfortably. You may want to play some relaxing music.
- Spend time concentrating on your breathing.
- Working down your body, tense one muscle at a time, hold for around 10 seconds and then relax.
- Notice how different a relaxed muscle feels – enjoy that feeling.
If you experience problems with spasticity or stiffness, discuss this with a health professional before trying a muscle relaxation technique.
Massage helps to relax your muscles and relieve tension as well as providing the soothing benefits of touch. Massage can be given by a trained professional, although courses, books and videos are available for partners or friends to learn basic techniques. Massage is sometimes combined with aromatherapy.
Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils to promote health and wellbeing. Some oils are thought to have relaxing effects, such as lavender. You can use the oils in the bath (if heat sensitivity is not an issue), as a steam inhalation, in an oil burner or during a massage.
Although aromatherapy oils are usually used with no problems, some people are allergic to certain fragrances and some oils may cause a rash if applied to the skin. It’s therefore best to seek advice before starting aromatherapy.
Yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates
Yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates exercises use combinations of breathing, movement, posture and meditation. Check locally for classes or group sessions, or there are plenty of books, DVDs, videos and apps available to help you practise on your own.
I find the breathing and gentle stretching of yoga very helpful against tension and anxiety that stops me sleeping. It took me a long time to find a class that suited me though.
Reflexology is a complementary therapy that involves having gentle pressure applied to the soles of your feet. Some people find that it helps them to feel more relaxed, eases their anxiety and reduces their fatigue.
I find reflexology reduces my pain, helps me relax and improves my sleep.
Relax with Vicki Matthews' in this Move it for MS relaxation session.
Try a relaxation session
Vicki Matthews MS Specialist nurse has created two relaxing, calming sessions. Get comfortable and give them a try!