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Relaxation Techniques

Learning to Let Go

The use of structured, mindful relaxation has long been recognised as a powerful tool to reduce stress, calm the mind and body, and increase our general health and well-being.

Benefits of relaxation include:

    • Reducing heart rate and blood pressure
    • Increases blood flow to the muscles
    • Decreases muscle tension
    • Increases concentration and problem solving abilities
    • Improves sleep quality
    • Stabilises the emotions

Relaxation to help recovery from alcoholPracticing regular relaxation can be extremely beneficial to the recovering alcoholic, especially given that stress levels are likely to be extremely high during the early parts of recovery, and the usual coping mechanism of alcohol is no longer available.

Coupled with the fact that getting proper sleep may be an issue, along with heightened agitation and nervousness, unless an outlet other than alcohol is found to deal with these feelings, relapse may be very difficult to avoid.

When practiced regularly, relaxation offers this outlet and provides the ex-drinker with the time and space to deal with any negative emotions positively and constructively, as well as calming the body’s physical state, making emotional equilibrium easier to achieve.

Types of Relaxation

Focused breathing simply requires that you sit or lie in a comfortable position where you will be undisturbed, and you simply focus all of your attention onto your breathing pattern. By taking deep breaths in and out, and noticing the sensation that the act of breathing creates in the body, you aim to remove all other erroneous thoughts from your mind. You remove all stressful thoughts, along with worries about the past and future and simply focus on being in the “here and now”.

Progressive muscle relaxation starts off by calming the body and mind by performing the breathing relaxation above, before consciously focusing on and relaxing each muscle group in the body. This is often done by momentarily tensing a particular muscle and then feeling the sensation of relaxation as you let go of the tension. By starting at the feet and moving progressively up the body to the top of the head, this relaxes the entire body.

Meditation to help recovery from alcoholMindfulness meditation
involves putting all your focus and awareness onto whatever it is you are doing right now in your moment-to-moment experience. By staying calm and focused in the present moment you can block out any unwanted stressful thoughts that may have been building up, and simply focus on your “here and now” existence.

If negative thoughts do pop into your head you simply notice and acknowledge them from a third person perspective – that is without judging or attributing any meaning or association to them. The advantage of this type of meditation is that it can be practiced at any time almost anywhere. While you are walking, waiting in line, or even doing the dishes.


Mindfulness, incidentally, can be a great tool to use when dealing with cravings for alcohol. Sometimes called “riding the wave”, this is where you passively and objectively detach yourself from the feelings associated with the cravings. You simply notice them as a passive observer, as they approach you, rise to a crescendo and then recede again.

Guided visualisation or guided imagery involves imagining a scene in which you feel at peace, free to let go of all tension and anxiety. This could be at the beach, in a secluded garden, in a childhood retreat or a magical woodland, and in creating your imagery you use all of your senses as you hear the sounds created by such a scene such as the crashing waves, or birdsong, and feel the coolness of the air or warmth of the sun.

In this visualisation you imagine yourself totally at ease, peacefully enjoying the relaxing environment and feeling an uplifting sense of well-being as you interact with your surroundings.

This type of relaxation is particularly effective when practiced with background music, or an associated soundtrack, as this can add to the realism of the overall effect.

You can create your own relaxation tapes by reading a relaxation script over an appropriate background track, in order to make your experience unique to you. Alternatively, there are hundreds and hundreds of ready-made relaxation tracks available from places like Amazon – some for as cheap as a few pence!

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