Relaxation Techniques - Help to combat the Symptoms of CFS/ME

Maintaining a high level of physical and/or mental tension during all or even part of a normal day will create problems even for a fit and healthy person. Problems resulting in -

Such problems may in turn disrupt their –

In fact, such problems can seriously disrupt ALL of life’s activities. But there is help available, and with this help, a fit and healthy mind and body can deal with these issues without too much difficulty.

In the case of CFS sufferers, however, such problems can appear insurmountable because of complicating factors associated with CFS. Stress, Anxiety and Panic Attacks can be part of the illness itself, or the result of trying to cope with everyday life while feeling dreadful – imagine how hard it must be for a single parent of small children to cope, for example. But regardless of what came first, stress/anxiety or CFS, the stress/anxiety needs to be dealt with - preferably without the use of prescription drugs - because it exacerbates CFS symptoms, often dramatically.

Fortunately, there is a natural concept that is a useful antidote to the tension habit called The Relaxation Response, which can be learned via some basic information and lots of practice.

Those who feel they need professional guidance in this area should ask their GP for a referral to a suitable NHS department, or consider Yoga, Tai Chi or Qigong classes, which are available in most towns and all cities.

However, for those who are happy to try a self-help approach, there are many CDs or MP3 downloads available, which in conjunction with certain basic ground rules, can create relaxation sessions that are often tremendously helpful. The main basic ground rules are –

BE COMFORTABLE

During a session, it’s essential to make yourself as warm and comfortable as possible, either sitting or lying down.

If sitting, ensure that your back is well supported and that your head is equally well supported against the back of the chair. Legs should be uncrossed and hands should be resting on your lap or the chair’s arms.

If lying, arms should be held loosely by your side or with your hands relaxed across your abdomen. Legs should be loosely outstretched and uncrossed.

When you’re ready to start the session, lightly close your eyes and breathe gently through your nose, using the abdomen rather than the upper chest. Keep an eye on the breathing, ensuring that it remains light and steady – some people tend to hold their breath without realising it, and this counterproductively increases tension.

Finally, relax your jaw so that your teeth are slightly parted, and release any tension in your forehead.

AVOID INTERRUPTIONS

Tell anyone in the house that you mustn’t be disturbed for the duration of your session. Turn the phone off even if there is someone else in the house – if it rings, the noise will disturb your session.

Listening to your CD or MP3 through headphones is very helpful as this will, at least to some extent, mute any unavoidable noise. Some CDs/MP3s actually require you to use headphones.

PASSIVE CONCENTRATION

Whatever type of CD/MP3 you choose, don’t be uptight about what you’re aiming to achieve. Let the process move at its natural pace and listen with a light mind, doing as instructed where instructions are included, passively – there should be no effort involved. If there is, then the chosen objective won’t be achieved – Go with the flow. If you fall asleep, that’s fine because your subconscious mind will continue to hear any instructions and act upon them.

AT THE END OF THE SESSION

As the session reaches its conclusion, don’t immediately leap up to carry on with your day. Sit or lie down for a few minutes, breathing gently, then gradually open your eyes, and if you want to, indulge in a little light stretching. Finally, get up and move about slowly for a few minutes more, perhaps gently rolling your head and shoulders a few times, savouring the relaxation and feeling of well-being that you’ve achieved. The transition from your session back to your normal day should not be rushed.

When you’re new to relaxation techniques, initially, you may feel that they’re not working for you. This is quite common and simply means that you need more practice. So don’t give up too easily. Like all worthwhile skills, practice makes perfect, and when you achieve ‘perfect’, you’ll find that the benefits gained are worth far more than the effort involved in gaining them.

TYPES OF CD/MP3

There are broadly three types of CD/MP3 available for use with these sessions. In simple terms, these are –

1. Pure Relaxation - either via soft music designed to bring your mind into an Alpha (relaxed) state, or a calm voice leading you with instructions, usually aimed at gradually relaxing all muscle groups until the whole body, and then the mind, is relaxed. This brings your parasympathetic nervous system to the fore, and this in turn reverses the negative physical effects created by stress or anxiety. For the beginner, the spoken type will probably be most effective. Please note, though, that some relaxation CDs/MP3s advise expanding the chest with deep breathing and tightly tensioning muscles before relaxing them. That’s fine if you’re healthy, but in CFS, intercostals can be inflamed and deep breathing in this way can cause chest pain. Tensioning muscles uses energy unnecessarily, and unnecessary use of energy isn’t a good idea for CFS sufferers.

2. Meditative - Again, meditation CDs/MP3s can be either music – often but not always Tibetan or Indian – or guided via the spoken word. Here, the objective is to concentrate your mind on one specific thing – often but not always, the breath – the point being to quieten the ‘mind chatter’ that can overwhelm a stressed or anxious mind. This is a simplified view for the beginner. There are many types of deeply involved meditative practices that are beyond the scope of this explanation.

3. Hypnosis - These CDs/MP3s are designed to retrain the mind into better habits while it is in an Alpha (relaxed) or near Delta (sleep) state. They are always via the spoken word, sometimes with a soft music background and, occasionally, including subliminal messages that you can’t consciously hear but which your subconscious mind picks up.

The quality of these CDs/MP3s varies quite a lot, so it’s important to purchase from a well established source and, in the case of spoken tracks, it is equally important that the speaker is someone well trained with a thorough understanding of the concepts he/she is dealing with.

If you’re unsure which options are good and which are not so good, Roger, one of our forum moderators, has selection experience and is happy to help forum members (membership is free) if he can. So, if you, as a CFS/ME Forum member, think that you need guidance, feel free to send him a personal message once you’ve decided which approach or approaches most appeals to you.