Relaxation Technique

When stress overwhelms your nervous system, your body is flooded with chemicals that prepare you for "fight or flight." This stress response can be lifesaving in emergency situations where you need to act quickly. But when it’s constantly activated by the stresses of everyday life, it can wear your body down and take a toll on your emotional health

For many of us, relaxation may mean vegging out in front of the TV at the end of a stressful day. But we probably know that this does little to help us feel better! No one can avoid all stress, but you can counteract its detrimental effects by learning a simple relaxation technique which puts the brakes on stress and brings your body and mind back into a state of equilibrium. Further, the exercises below can be fitted in in 10 minutes and almost anywhere. Try and do twice a day if you can, especially during tense times

What the relaxation technique delivers:

  • your heart rate slows down
  • breathing becomes slower and deeper
  • blood pressure drops or stabilizes
  • muscles relax
  • blood flow to the brain increases

In addition to its calming physical effects, the relaxation response also increases energy and focus, combats illness, relieves aches and pains, heightens problem-solving abilities, and boosts motivation and productivity. Best of all, anyone can reap these benefits with regular practice

Quick relaxation: deep breathing This can be done quickly when you feel the pressure is rising. You also need to do this before you go into the longer progressive muscle relaxation technique

The key to deep breathing is to breathe deeply from the abdomen, getting as much fresh air as possible in your lungs. When you take deep breaths from the abdomen, rather than shallow breaths from your upper chest, you inhale more oxygen. The more oxygen you get, the less tense, short of breath, and anxious you feel

  • Sit comfortably with your back straight. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach
  • Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach should rise. The hand on your chest should move very little
  • Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little
  • Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls. Count slowly as you exhale
  • When you can do this easily then try counting for 3 before breathing in again

If you find it difficult breathing from your abdomen while sitting up, try lying down. Put a small book on your stomach, and breathe so that the book rises as you inhale and falls as you exhale.

watch this space for a podcast of me taking you through the exercises

Progressive muscle relaxation

Below is a classic relaxation exercise that has been used extensively as it works so well

All you really need is a few minutes and a place to stretch out. It is best not done just before going to sleep as if you are tired at the end of the day, you will just fall asleep still feeling tense!

Progressive muscle relaxation is a two-step process in which you systematically tense and relax different muscle groups in the body. With regular practice, it gives you an intimate familiarity with what tension—as well as complete relaxation—feels like in different parts of the body. This can help you to you react to the first signs of the muscular tension that accompanies stress. And as your body relaxes, so will your mind.

as your body relaxes, so will your mind

Practicing progressive muscle relaxation

Consult with your doctor first if you have a history of muscle spasms, back problems, or other serious injuries that may be aggravated by tensing muscles. You can do it lying down or sat in a chair.

Start at your feet and work your way up to your face, trying to only tense those muscles intended.

  1. Loosen your clothing, take off your shoes, and get comfortable.
  2. Take a few minutes to breathe in and out in slow, deep breaths, using the deep breathing exercise above first if you have the time.
  3. When you’re ready, shift your attention to your right foot. Take a moment to focus on the way it feels.
  4. Slowly tense the muscles in your right foot, squeezing as tightly as you can. Hold for a count of 10.
  5. Relax your foot. Focus on the tension flowing away and how your foot feels as it becomes limp and loose.
  6. Stay in this relaxed state for a moment, breathing deeply and slowly.
  7. Shift your attention to your left foot. Follow the same sequence of muscle tension and release.
  8. Move slowly up through your body, contracting and relaxing the different muscle groups.
  9. It may take some practice at first, but try not to tense muscles other than those intended.

Muscle relaxation sequence

  1. Right foot, then left foot
  2. Right calf, then left calf
  3. Right thigh, then left thigh
  4. Hips and buttocks
  5. Stomach
  6. Chest
  7. Back
  8. Right arm and hand, then left arm and hand
  9. Neck and shoulders
  10. Face: smooth forehead, lips, jaw

If you have time, a deeper, more thorough technique involves clenching each muscle/muscle group as strong as you can, then let go and do the same but clench less strongly, then finally clench only just using your mind, feel the difference between tense and relaxed!

My philosophy on motivating people to change

Many people want to change some aspect of their life, and for some it’s crucial for health reasons such as quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake, losing weight or exercising more. Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a relatively new, yet growing, method used by professional therapists to enable clients make lifestyle changes. The emerging evidence is that MI works better than the traditional consultation and has long lasting results.

Evidence shows that just telling people what to do does not work well as a way of changing people’s behaviour. MI helps individuals overcome their negative views about changing by exploring the desire and ability to change that lies within them (it really is in most people!). In doing this it supports change in a manner that sits comfortably with a person’s own values and concerns.

What it MI?

MI works by tapping into your own goals, values, aspirations and dreams and draws them out. But it acknowledges your right to autonomy and your freedom not to change. Trying to force people to change usually drives them in the opposite direction!

MI evokes what is known as ‘change talk’ - the idea is that the more you hear yourself say something, the more likely you will be motivated to do it. MI is collaborative and allows for rapport and trust to develop between you and the practitioner; the practitioner does not take the role of knowing all or lording over you.

MI will focuses on the positive things you say about moving forward, however small, and this ‘change-talk’ will skilfully be used to help change your mind set and eventually lead to positive action.

How does an MI consultation differ to traditional one?

One of the biggest differences is that I will not be always trying to put right what I see as wrong in your life. Instead I will want to gain an understanding of your world through your eyes. You will not be marginalised or put in a box but receive positive regard and your autonomy respected.

I will do a lot of reflective listening and summarising/interpreting back to you what you’ve said; this should highlight the important elements of the discussion, especially talk that helps to move you along. This reflective listening is also a way of showing I amd listening and am interested in what you say and from my end it ensures I understanding things correctly. It also allows me to point out to you your existing strengths and abilities. It is the basis of MI

I ask mostly open questions, so that you can expand more. These questions help to gently draw out your motivation to change. Unsolicited advice won’t be given - but saying that, I may ask your permission to give you some advice or information on a range of options.

The four stages of an MI consultation

  1. Engaging involves gathering relevant background details and I can explain how the consultation will run. This will hopefully set us off on the right foot! If you at all feel you are being judged, not listened too or that I am not trying to walk in your shoes, then MI is not happening!
  2. Focusing clarifies the goal both you and I hope to achieve together; it’s the unravelling of whether, why, how and when you change. In this stage the focus is on purposeful conversation that has ‘change’ at its heart.
  3. Evoking involves drawing out the ‘change-talk’: when this happens when there is a strengthening of the reasons why you want to change and the motivation to change. This may include helping you to realise you have the skills within you to do the job!
  4. Planning is the last stage for when you are ready to take action; it’s usually when you begin talking more about when and how to change and less about whether and why. Your plan should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time specific. So rather than saying I want to lose weight, you would need to say if it relevant for you to lose weight, how much, how (choose a sensible approach), by when and set a realistic amount.

Your role in the process

MI is a partnership between you and me. Please air your viewpoint; you know most about yourself! Work with me understand your world. Remember, I won't be telling you what to do, but this doesn’t mean I wholeheartedly endorse your current behaviour, or your ideas about how to change it. It’s all about trust and reaching a mutual understanding about the way forward. Have a think about what you could realistically do to change; my role will be to draw out your motivations and skills for change and help you make some quite detailed plans

MI is a partnership between you and me

One of my case studies

Jane was overweight and it was putting a strain on her health and she was heading towards diabetes. She really didn’t want to become diabetic but weight loss was the only thing that would prevent this happening

She had been advised (she called it nagged) in the past by numerous health professionals, family and friends about what to do. None of it had helped

She came to see me and I listened to what had been going on in her life. She admitted to being very disorganised. After exploring the situation more, she mentioned that maybe trying to organise herself would help her with her diet. This was the start of ‘change talk’ and it gave us something we could work on together

Jane did go on to lose a significant amount of weight and avoided becoming diabetic. She said that she had found it really helpful that I did not ‘have a go’ at her for not losing weight, but just listened and advised only when she wanted it. She found that planning her shopping and meals were key to her following a sensible diet that lead to weight loss

Activity guidance for all ages

physical activity should be encouraged from birth

In the UK the Chief Medical Officer’s issued physical activity guidelines covering early years; children and young people; adults; and older adults

EARLY YEARS (under 5s)

  1. Physical activity should be encouraged from birth, particularly through floor-based play and water-based activities in safe environments
  2. Children of pre-school age who are capable of walking unaided should be physically active daily for at least 180 minutes (3 hours), spread throughout the day
  3. All under 5s should minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary (being restrained or sitting) for extended periods (except time spent sleeping)


  1. All children and young people should engage in moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity for at least 60 minutes and up to several hours every day
  2. Vigorous intensity activities, including those that strengthen muscle and bone, should be incorporated at least three days a week
  3. All children and young people should minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary (sitting) for extended periods

ADULTS (19-64 years)

  1. Adults should aim to be active daily. Over a week, activity should add up to at least 150 minutes (2½ hours) of moderate intensity activity in bouts of 10 minutes or more – one way to approach this is to do 30 minutes on at least 5 days a week
  2. Alternatively, comparable benefits can be achieved through 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity spread across the week or a combination of moderate and vigorous intensity activity
  3. Adults should also undertake physical activity to improve muscle strength on at least two days a week
  4. All adults should minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary (sitting) for extended periods

OLDER ADULTS (65+ years)

  1. Older adults who participate in any amount of physical activity gain some health benefits, including maintenance of good physical and cognitive function. Some physical activity is better than none, and more physical activity provides greater health benefits
  2. Older adults should aim to be active daily. Over a week, activity should add up to at least 150 minutes (2½ hours) of moderate intensity activity in bouts of 10 minutes or more – one way to approach this is to do 30 minutes on at least 5 days a week
  3. For those who are already regularly active at moderate intensity, comparable benefits can be achieved through 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity spread across the week or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity
  4. Older adults should also undertake physical activity to improve muscle strength (some sort of resistance training) on at least two days a week
  5. Older adults at risk of falls should incorporate physical activity to improve balance and co-ordination on at least two days a week (such as Pilates, Yoga or T’ai Chi)
  6. All older adults should minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary (sitting) for extended periods

How to eat sustainably and healthily

the eatwell guide

Some additional tips:

  1. Aim to reduce waste. Reducing food waste (and packaging) saves the energy, effort and natural resources used to produce and dispose of it, as well as money
  2. Consume less meat and dairy produce. Consuming more vegetables and fruit, grains and pulses, and smaller amounts of animal products produced to high-welfare and environmental standards helps reduce health risks and greenhouse gases
  3. Buy local, seasonal and environmentally friendly food such as from local farms. This benefits wildlife and the countryside, minimises the energy used in food production, transport and storage, and helps protect the local economy
  4. Choose Fairtrade-certified products. This scheme for food and drinks imported from poorer countries ensures a fair deal for disadvantaged producers
  5. Selecting fish only from sustainable sources, certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Future generations will be able to eat fish and seafood if we act now to protect our rivers and seas and the creatures living there
  6. Geting the balance right. (as in picture above). Try to cut down on sugar, salt and fat and more wholegrain product, fruit and veg
  7. Try Growing our own and/or buy the rest from a wide range of outlets. Fresh out of the garden or allotment is unbeatable, and a vibrant mix of local markets, small shops, cafés, and other retailers provides choice, variety and good livelihoods

What To Believe In The Media

don't believe recommendations that promise a quick fix

What to believe

Best not to believe

Recommendations which involve some effort on your part

Recommendations that promise a quick fix

When the claim falls within the realms of reality

When the claim seems too good to be true

When it is claimed that more work is needed to back the findings

When simplistic conclusions are drawn from a complex study

Recommendations made by pooling together all the reputable studies

Recommendations based on a single study

Recommendations done on sufficient number of people to be able to carry out proper statistics

Recommendations made from individual case studies only, or only a handful of people

When trials have been ‘placebo- controlled’ i.e. an effect is claimed over and above the effect which may be seen due to ‘placebo’.

Recommendations based on the effect only and not on the effect over and above the placebo effect (which can be 50% in some cases)

Statements that are backed up by reputable scientific organisations

Dramatic statements that are refuted by reputable scientific organisations

Studies which back up healthy eating guidelines

Studies which claim that a whole food group should not be eaten by large groups of people.

Healthy eating claims which do not involve cutting out whole lists of ‘forbidden’ foods

Lists of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods

Recommendations which are based on independent, unbiased scientific research

Recommendations made to help sell a product

Recommendations based on peer reviewed studies (i.e. those which have had the approval of renowned experts in the field)

Recommendations based on studies published without peer review

Recommendations which take into account the fact that different groups and individuals may respond differently

Recommendations from studies that ignore differences among individuals or groups

Recommendations which are based on appropriate human studies, not just animal ones

Recommendations based on animal studies only

Recommendations which are based on further backing up of epidemiological evidence (i.e. evidence which can be gleaned by studying large groups of people as a whole) by further more ‘controlled’ studies

Recommendations which are based on epidemiological studies only, e.g. the French have less heart disease and the French also eat more snails, therefore the French have less heart disease because they eat more snails!