Stress, anxiety and muscle tension are common triggers for headaches and migraines. How many times have people said to you… why don't you just relax? The fact is many people simply don't know HOW to relax.
We all have stress in our lives therefore completely eliminating stress is nearly impossible, however, there are ways in which we can minimize how this stress affects us. Keep reading to find out what you can do to try and get some more ‘chill’ in your life. When we get stressed out it creates a series of events within our body that leads to ongoing issues. Stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are released which are useful in the short term but create issues if allowed to continue long term, this includes things like decreased oxygenation of our muscles and brain which affects function, digestive issues, weight gain, skin issues and insomnia. When we manage our stress effectively we can stop these things from becoming a problem. One of the best ways to do this is to practice relaxation.
Four Techniques for Relaxation:
Meditation is a set of techniques designed to help train your mind. It creates consciousness and wellbeing and encourages a heightened state of awareness and focussed attention. There are actually many different types of meditation. Meditation can be both calming or insightful.
Calming type meditation quiets the mind cultivating peace and focus, while insightful meditation sets an intention to transform the mind to develop certain qualities and awareness.
Meditation can be simple. For a beginner you can choose to do one that is guided so that you have some clear instruction, or you can do one that’s unguided as follows:
1. Find a relaxing place to sit that feels calm and quiet to you.
2. Set yourself a timer - it can be as short as 10 minutes to get a feel for it if you are just beginning.
3. Bring focus to your body - make sure you are in a stable comfortable position that you can stay in for a while.
4. Feel your breath or your heartbeat - notice the sensation of your breath as it goes in and out, or your pulse or heart beating.
5. Use affirmations - you can repeat a positive statement about yourself or your life or intention. Try to feel what it means to you.
6. If your mind has wandered that’s ok, bring your attention back to your breath or heartbeat whenever you realise.
7. Be kind to yourself - If your thoughts get lost in an unhappy/negative place then just leave it there and come back to your breath. Don't obsess over it.
8. Once completed gradually lift your gaze and acclimatize back to the activities of your day, listen to the sounds in your surroundings.
9. Make sure you practice regularly.
A really useful way to practice relaxation is to work on your breathing. Breathing control helps to voluntarily relax your nervous system, this regulates the heart and digestion while increasing circulation throughout the body, decreasing anxiety and improving sleep and energy levels.
1. Keeping your mouth closed inhale through your nose for four seconds.
2. Hold your breath for seven seconds.
3. Slowly exhale through your mouth for eight seconds making a whooshing sound.
4. Inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Box Breathing or Calm Breathing
This type of breathing is useful for a quick reset, to focus or calm down. It uses a simple four second rotation of breathing.
1. Inhale for four seconds
2. Hold with full lungs for four seconds
3. Exhale for four seconds
4. Hold with your lungs empty for Four seconds
5. Repeat as many times as needed to feel calm
Counting Down Numbers
Start sitting in a comfortable position. Associate each part of your body from the top of your head to your toes with the following numbers.
6 - Head and face
5 - Shoulders
4 - Chest
3 - Stomach
2 - Thighs
1 - Calves and feet
Take a deep breath and as you exhale let it all flow down your body letting your muscles go totally limp. As you exhale countdown - 6, 5, 4, 3, 2,1 and relax each part of your body that the number is associated with. You can modify this to include areas you feel are particularly tense as well.
Other Forms of Relaxation
There are many other techniques that you could use to reduce stress, anxiety and tension.
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that focuses on being aware of your body, thoughts and feelings and paying attention to these thoughts and sensations without judgement. To get started you may find it useful to download an app onto your phone. Some commonly used ones are headspace, calm or smiling mind.
These are scripts that you read that help you to relax. You can create your own or you can select an already existing one based on your needs at the time. Close your eyes and focus on listening to and following the reading. This teaches you to be in the present and not let your mind wander. Practice these readings daily and then they will become routine.
Yoga Nidra is a state of deep relaxation somewhere between sleep and consciousness. It is a deep form of meditation.
Exercise releases endorphins which creates a feeling of euphoria. It also helps to relax your muscles, improves circulation and creates a feeling of general wellbeing. Yoga, pilates and tai chi are particularly useful for relaxation. Utilizing these relaxation techniques could do wonders for your nervous system and reducing your headaches, migraines and tension.
If any of this resonates with you and you want to find out more about what you can do for your headaches and migraines or pain then get in touch with us. Here at Melbourne Headache Solutions we are passionate about helping people with their headaches and migraines. We are dedicated to finding out what the root cause of your problem is and helping you to find a way to get your symptoms under control so please get in touch!
Written by Dr Helen (Osteopath) who works in our Camberwell Clinic -Melbourne Headache