Relaxation techniques are simply methods to help lower one’s natural “fight, flight or freeze” response. When a person is anxious or scared, the primitive part of the brain goes into a reactive, self-protective mode. When this happens, it can cause panic and be hard for children and teenagers to think rationally or problem solve. Breathing and heart rate become faster, muscles clench, and the blood gets flooded with stress hormones.
If stress reactions become chronic, it can cause wear and tear in the body. Stress reactions can trigger headaches, tummy aches, poor sleep, among other ailments. Learning skills to calm this reactive physiology through breathing is at the heart of most relaxation techniques.
Relaxation Techniques for Pain
- Breath Focus or “Belly Breathing” – Paying attention to the breath or counting breaths is helpful in calming the body when anxious.
- Body Scan – The practice of noticing which parts of the body are tense and directing breath to alleviate it promotes the relaxation response.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation – The practice of tightening up parts to the body (for examples, the facial muscles, fists, arms, and legs) and then releasing the tension from head-to-toes promotes awareness of tension and the relief of releasing it.
- Guided Imagery – Visualizing calm and tranquil scenes or images while in a relaxed state and awareness of breath helps children use their imagination to promote relaxation.
- Mindfulness Skills – Paying attention to sight, sound, taste, smell, and texture. Examples include mindful eating or “savoring” food, taking a listening walk and taking in the sounds of the natural environment, and mindful listening of others to be fully attentive and present.
- Yoga – Certain forms of yoga, such as gentle yoga, encourage attention to breath and movement and promote a calm body and mind. Many of the postures mimic animal motions and can be fun for kids to practice (e.g., downward dog, cat and cow stretches, butterfly pose, lion breath, and eagle arms, to name a few)
Article reviewed May 2018 by Tara Cousineau, Phd.