Using relaxation and stress reduction exercises to help myself feel better is one of my most important wellness tools. I first learned about these exercises years ago, when episodes of mania, depression and severe anxiety dominated my life. I began using them on a day to day basis, and noticed that it made me feel somewhat better. Then I started using them at night to put myself to sleep, and to get back to sleep when I awakened early. Sometimes they put me to sleep and sometimes they didn't. But at least I felt a lot more relaxed and seemed to feel better the next day whether I had a good night's sleep or not.

The real test was with "mania". I hated mania. I would get going really fast, my mind and body would be racing. I couldn't slow down. I was irritable, alienating family members, friends and even care providers. I bought a lot of things I didn't need and did things I wish I had never done. It was horrible. Some people say they like it. Not me.

I came up with a strategy that I thought might work, and it has. First I began noticing early warning signs of mania. Thoughts beginning to race. Not wanting to take a break. Feeling irritated with others who were moving at a slower pace then I was. As soon as I noticed these signs I would lay down on my sofa, put on my headphones and listen to a relaxation tape. Sometimes I would play the same tape over and over. Sometimes I would use different tapes. I have one tape with four different relaxation and visualization exercises on it that I like best of all.. When I finished I noticed that I felt much better. Calm and relaxed. When the signs started to return, I would do another relaxation exercise. On a difficult day I would do them three, four, even five times.
That was 12 years ago. I have had signs of mania since then, but never again a full blown mania. I am so grateful. And it is so easy. I think the real trick is to notice it right away and start "cooling" yourself down.

In the years since I first became aware of the effectiveness of relaxation and stress reduction techniques, I have read many books about different relaxation styles and techniques. The libraries usually have a good supply. I have taken several courses and attended several workshops on relaxation and stress reduction. I have invested in many tapes and now CDs (they are inexpensive compared to the costs for medications, or for the damage I might do if I experienced mania.) I have learned yoga and various styles of meditation. My abilities to relax deeply continue to improve. Just this past summer I took a course in self hypnosis that brought me to a new level of deep relaxation and a general feeling of well-being.

There are many different kinds of relaxation and stress reduction techniques. Most of them involve some deep breathing. They may include focusing on parts of your body and feeling them relax or tensing and relaxing the various muscle groups in your body. There may be some movement. You may be instructed to visualize yourself in a beautiful place like walking along the beach or in a meadow of wildflowers. They you repeat positive affirmations. Some of them may be really helpful to you. Others may not feel helpful or right to you at all.

I can do some relaxation exercises without using a tape or CD. I just take a few deep breaths, progressively relax my body working from my toes up-although sometimes I work from the top of my head down. Or I lean back and visualize a beautiful scene or focus on a wonderful time in my life. This is really handy when I am in a public place, like on a train or bus, or when I want to relax quickly. However, most of the time I listen to one of my relaxation tapes or CD's. My focus tends to be better. I find that it is especially important for me to use a tape or CD if I have early warning signs of impending difficulties. You can buy these tapes and CD's in health food stores and bookstores. There are many websites where they can be purchased as well..

If cost is an issue for you, you could purchase some inexpensive tapes, and record your own relaxation tape. You could do it yourself or ask a friend or counselor to do it for you. Read the instructions slowly, from one of the many books, including mine, that describe these exercises.

I include relaxation and stress reduction in my WRAP. In my Daily Maintenance Plan I have "do at least one relaxation exercise". If I am triggered I take a few deep breaths before I do anything else. Then I may choose to take a time out and do one or several exercises or a yoga stretch or two.

If I have early warning signs, I do at least there of these exercises a day. If things are breaking down, I do at least five a day. It takes a lot of time, but if it prevents a crisis, it is well worth it.

September, 2002 Volume 3.3
Mary Ellen Copeland, MS, MA
Edward Anthes
PO Box 301, W. Dummerston, VT 053577
802-254-2092 (phone) 802-257-7499 (fax)