While it may sound hard to believe, one of the biggest challenges of my recovery has been learning to relax and just breathe. Having CPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) means that I’m often on high alert, stressed out, anxious, and hyper-vigilant. My nervous system is highly activated and just getting through a normal day can feel exhausting for me.
The first step to learning to calm down my nervous system and relax my body was relearning how to breathe. I had to practice therapeutic breathing exercises at least ten times a day. The key is to practice deep breathing when you are calm, so that you’ll automatically remember to breathe deeply when you’re activated and upset.
This may all sound like a no-brainer, but I literally had to reteach my brain and body how to relax from being activated most of the time. I reached a big milestone when I started doing jigsaw puzzles in my spare time. Focusing puzzles really helped me block out the never-ending tape of anxious thoughts and worries in my head. I just focused on the colors and the shapes of the pieces. I loved learning to tune out my anxious thoughts and seeing the progress I made on the puzzles was really rewarding in my early stages of recovery.
Some other tools I’ve used to relax in recovery include:
- Meditation & Mindfulness – Meditation was really challenging for me for many years. I was trying to turn off my brain. But I learned in recovery that it can simply be about focusing on my breath and the sensations around me. Now I can relax while doing nothing, whereas before I was always on the go and looking for work to do.
- Affirmations – Cultivating positive self-talk and practicing it is an ongoing practice.
- Noting positive emotions and being willing to feel them – Speaking back to my Inner Critic and letting myself open up to positive emotions is a daily exercise.
- Showing yourself grace – Learning to be kinder to myself was really hard at first. I still struggle with this, but I’m improving every day.
- Tapping – I learned this with my therapist, but there are YouTube videos on how to use tapping to find relief from anxiety.
- Coloring books and coloring pencils/pens – Like with jigsaw puzzles, I’m able to focus on the colors and the sensation of the pen on the paper. This tunes out my anxious thoughts and brings me some relief.
- Prayer – Prayer to a Higher Power or mindfulness about gratitude can be very relaxing and comforting.
- Aromatherapy – Light your favorite candle and smell it. Anchor yourself by focusing on the flame. I also have an aromatherapy necklace; I put my favorite essential oils on it and smell it throughout the day.
- Taking walks – Notice the sensations in your body and your feet. Feel the breeze on your face and take note of the world around you. I like to focus on the trees and the horizon.
I hope these activities and tips are helpful for you if relaxation in recovery is something you’re struggling with. Remember that it can take a while to see results from these practices. The more practice you get, the more you’ll find yourself willing to relax and let go.