Long COVID Self-Management - Mindfulness & Relaxation: Exercise and Activities
There is a strong connection between our thoughts, actions, emotions, and how we feel physically. Each of these can affect one another. We can change our emotions by changing the way we think or by doing things that calm our body.
Mindfulness is when a person focuses their mind only on the present moment. It also involves accepting any emotions, thoughts and physical feelings without judgment. During this practice, a person will often focus on something internal such as their breath or body sensations. Sometimes, they may focus on something external such as sights and sounds around them. Mostly, mindfulness is about observing without trying to change anything. It can be very calming and relaxing, leading to a slower heart rate, lower blood pressure and slower breathing.
Relaxation exercises (e.g., deep breathing, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation) work to change your physical state so you can feel relaxed and calm your mind. It is also possible to feel relaxed while doing certain activities even if the focus is not on relaxation (e.g., listening to music, gardening etc.).
Below are some examples of mindfulness and relaxation exercises and activities. There are also links to guided meditations and exercises. Try some and see what works for you!
- Notice your breathing without trying to control it (be mindful of your breath).
- Next, see if you can control your breathing, aiming for slow and even breaths.
- If you feel able, you could also try deep breathing. In this case, you can breathe in through your nose for a count of three, hold the breath for three, and then slowly let it out of your mouth, for six counts, through pursed lips (as though you are blowing on hot soup!). You can adjust the pace, so it is comfortable for you.
- Try using a cue word or phrase to focus your mind as you slowly breathe out (e.g., repeat “loose...loose...loose” to yourself or a short phrase such as, “I feel loose”).
- Try imaging a balloon inside your abdomen inflating and deflating as you breathe in and out.
Breathe in naturally, but sigh deeply as you breathe out, letting out a sound of deep relief as the air rushes out of your lungs. Try six to eight of these relaxing sighs.
Starting at the top of your head or your toes, scan your body. Focus on one part of the body or a group of muscles at one time. Pay attention to any areas of tension (be mindful). If you choose, you can focus on mentally releasing the tension as you breathe out
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
- Purposefully tense and relax muscle groups in your body, one at a time.
- Note. Speak with your health care provider before doing progressive muscle relaxation if you have heart disease or acute or chronic pain.
- You can work your way from head to toe, targeting muscles in the forehead, around the eyes and nose, cheeks and jaw, neck, shoulders, biceps, wrists and forearms, hands, chest, back, stomach, hips and buttocks, thighs, and lower legs.
- Breathe in and tense the muscle group for five to 10 seconds. Take care not to hurt yourself while tensing- you should never feel intense or shooting pain during this exercise.
- Breathe out and quickly relax the muscles in that group.
- Stay relaxed for 10-20 seconds before moving to the next muscle group. Pay attention to the difference between tension and relaxation.
- Repeat for each muscle group.
Imagine something soothing, pleasant, and calming. For example, imagine what you’d see, hear, feel, and smell while lying in a shady spot on the beach or while sitting in the forest.
Engage Your 5 Senses
- What do you see?
Spend Time Colouring
Listen to Music
Listening to music that resonates best with you and what you are experiencing in that moment is helpful. Some people find that calming music works best to reduce stress.
Seek out Additional Activities
- Seek out additional activities that occupy your attention and help you to feel relaxed and add them to this list.
- Use mindfulness to check in on whether activities you consider to be relaxing are actually so (e.g., watching television, scrolling social media). Try doing a body scan during the activity to see whether you are tense or relaxed.
Try Guided Meditation/Relaxation Exercises
There are many free smart phone apps and websites that offer guided meditations.