I took the bold step the other day of declaring Saturday 5 May as Fibromyalgia Isolation (a.k.a. Treat Yourself) Day.

All I wanted to do was allow everyone some time for themselves – it didn’t actually have to be the whole day. Instead, I received a heap of excuses as to why people couldn’t give themselves some time.

Here’s what I say:

To ‘I wish’ – just do it!

To ‘unfortunately those of us with young children can’t partake’ – find a family member, friend, neighbour to take the kids to the park for an hour!

To ‘going out to dinner with friends’ – spend a couple of hours getting ready, have a candle-lit bath, listen to soothing music…

It is so important to take time out for yourself and relax (not time out to think about what you should be doing but can’t; about what you could be doing; or about what you would be doing, if you weren’t relaxing). Symptoms of FM are often exacerbated by the emotional and physical strain that the condition causes, leaving many of us stressed and unable to carry on with our daily routines. To help relieve your stress levels as well ease your symptoms, consider using relaxation therapy.

(Please play the following music while you read the remainder of this post)

How Does Stress Affect the Body?
Both physical and emotional stress can really take its toll on your body. When you sense stress, your body engages in a ‘fight or flight’ response – this means that your body has to decide whether to fight the source of its stress or escape from it. As a result, your body starts to undergo a variety of physical changes to prepare for reaction. These reactions can include:

  • increased heart rate
  • quick, shallow breathing
  • increased blood supply
  • increased blood pressure

You may even notice that you start to sweat, feel nauseated, or even want to faint as a result of your body’s reaction to stress. FM sufferers may also notice an increase in their symptom severity.

How can Relaxation Restore the Body?
By relaxing both your physical body and your mind, you can actually help to reduce the effects of stress. This is known as the relaxation response. Relaxation helps to lower blood pressure and heart rate, and also helps to slow down breathing. Additionally, it promotes oxygen flow throughout the body, helping to heal damaged areas.

Effects of Relaxation Therapy on Fibromyalgia
Relaxation therapy can also be extremely helpful in reducing the many symptoms caused by fibromyalgia. Meditation and progressive muscle relaxation techniques help to reduce insomnia and other sleep disorders. They promote the production of melatonin in the body, which is essential for deep sleep.

Relaxation therapy has also been proven to moderately reduce anxiety and depression, which are also symptoms of fibromyalgia. Moreover, all relaxation therapies have proven effective in minimizing the intensity and duration of migraines.

What is Relaxation Therapy?
Relaxation therapy helps to provide a person with physical, emotional, and spiritual relaxation. It actually involves numerous techniques that reduce stress and fatigue and work to invigorate the mind and body. Most relaxation techniques involve using both the body and the mind together; they often pair concentration with specific bodily movements or breathing exercise to achieve deep relaxation.

There are a number of different types of relaxation therapy including deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and progressive muscle relaxation. Many relaxation therapy techniques can be performed at home, while others can be performed under the guidance of an instructor at a relaxation therapy clinic. Relaxation therapies are very effective because they are accessible, easy to do, and rewarding on all levels.

Relaxation Techniques
There are a wide variety of different techniques that can be used to help promote relaxation.

Deep Breathing
Deep breathing is one of the most basic forms of relaxation therapy. It is a type of relaxation breathing that helps to melt away stress by providing your body with more oxygen. Without oxygen your body cannot function efficiently, and you will feel very painful.

Deep breathing techniques require you to focus on your inhalation and exhalation. Sit or stand comfortably and place your hands firmly on your stomach. Slowly inhale through your nose. As you inhale, you should notice that your stomach begins to expand outwards – this is a sign that you are inhaling as much oxygen as possible. Hold your breath for a few seconds before you begin to exhale. Purse your lips and slowly release all of the air you have just taken in. Repeat for 10 minutes, three or four times daily.

Meditation is a technique that helps to relax the body and settle the mind at the same time. Meditation has been used for thousands of years to achieve spiritual and physical oneness. It is now commonly used to help minimize stress and alleviate chronic pain.

One form of meditation uses focused concentration in order to achieve relaxation. Either by repeating a word or sound, or by focusing on your breathing, you can clear your mind and achieve complete relaxation. Sit in a chair or on the floor, and close your eyes. Concentrate on inhaling and exhaling or repeating a special word. Try to sit as still as possible as you focus your concentration. Aim to continue this process for about 20 minutes.

Originating in India, yoga is both a physical and mental practice that can help you to achieve complete relaxation. It is a low-impact workout, which focuses on stretching and relaxing all major muscle groups in the body. This makes yoga an excellent choice for fibromyalgia patients, as it helps to increase muscle mass and strength. Yoga relaxation therapy also teaches you how to control and monitor your own breathing, allowing you to relax and focus as you complete the workout.

There are different types of yoga, but Hatha yoga is among the most popular for fibromyalgia sufferers. Hatha yoga uses specific poses and movements to help centre the mind and body. Yoga can be done in the privacy of your own home with the assistance of books or videotapes, or you can attend one of the many yoga classes that are now widely available.

(You can check out my experience with yoga, too)

Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is an excellent choice for fibromyalgia patients because it is so easy to do. You can do it while sitting in a chair or when lying in bed, whichever is the most comfortable for you. Progressive muscle relaxation works on all major muscle groups in the body. It helps to reduce tension and work out your muscles at the same time. Progressive muscle relaxation requires no equipment and can be done by all age-levels and abilities.

This technique reduces stress and tension by helping you to focus on particular muscles in your body. You begin by tensing the muscles in your feet. Hold this contraction for 8 seconds or so. Then release the tension and relax. Continue tensing all the major muscles in your body, right up to your head. By the time you have finished, you will be completely relaxed.

Personal Sanctuary

MY ultimate sanctuary

Escaping to a positive stress-free environment when you are tense is a great way to induce relaxation. You can create your own ‘personal sanctuary’ in your home. This may mean going to your garden, or creating a special corner in your bedroom that is filled with all of the colors and happy items you like and enjoy. By simply spending a few moments in your special space, you’ll be amazed at how rejuvenated you will feel.

MINI-RELAXATION PROCEDURE (for those on a tight schedule!)

For relaxation to be of the most benefit, you need to learn how to relax and calm yourself instantly upon your awareness of tension or irritability. While a 20-30 minute relaxation period is great, and very pleasant, you cannot escape and listen to your tape or do your long practice when you are tense in traffic or irritated with your family or co-workers.

A mini-relaxation is done as follows:

  1. Take a deep breath and raise your shoulders slightly (until you can feel increased muscle tension).
  2. Starting at the top of your head, focus on letting go of muscle tension (beginning with the muscles across your forehead). Allow sensations of relaxation, release, and heaviness to flow downward from your forehead, downward through your face, shoulders, arms, torso, and legs and imagine all the muscle tightness and tension draining right out your feet. Exhale as you allow the tension to drain away, and use your “key word” as you do so (this may be Relax, Peace, Calm, Serene, Ocean or any other word or phrase that denotes deep relaxation to you). Be certain that your deep breath was a deep diaphragmatic breath.
  3. This whole procedure should take no more than about 30 seconds (and can be done in as little as 10 seconds if that’s all the time you have). At the end of this period, go about your business regardless of how relaxed you feel.
  4. Repeat this process many times during the day, at least 20. Use the coloured dot procedure to remind yourself to do a mini-relaxation, preferably several times an hour. Place coloured dots in places you will see them often: your telephone, kitchen faucet, refrigerator, bathroom mirror, the door frame of doors you walk through frequently, your notebook or appointment book that you consult frequently, and even cut a small part of the coloured dot to place on your watchband. Whenever you see the coloured dot that is your reminder to do a mini-relaxation: deep breath, raise shoulders, let go of muscle tension as you breathe out and drop your shoulders, while repeating your ‘key word.’ You will notice that you become better and better at producing sensations of relaxation in a very short period of time, as you practice this over days and weeks. Do not extend your mini-relaxation more than one minute. If you are still tense, continue with what you are doing, and do another mini-relaxation the next time you see a dot, or the next time you are aware of feeling annoyed.

NB: A note of caution regarding relaxation if you are driving your car: Never practice long periods of deep relaxation while driving. Never listen to a deep relaxation tape while driving. Frequency is the key! The more you practice relaxation, or mini-relaxation, the better you will become at releasing stress and tension quickly and effectively.

Relaxation is a skill, just like playing tennis or the piano. You cannot expect to be immediately skilled at these techniques. But you will definitely get better the longer and more often you practice. Set aside some time on Fibromyalgia Isolation (a.k.a. Treat Yourself) Day to practice (please!)