Senior Health

12/1/2021 | By Kari Smith

The last couple of years have filled our lives with stress, from a worldwide pandemic to political strife and racial tensions. More than ever, we need to have everyday easy techniques for relaxation and calm at the ready.

Feeling stressed? It’s understandable!

Beginning in early 2020, lockdowns and quarantines kept people in their homes and away from friends, family, and support systems. Schools, gyms, places of worship, and small businesses closed. Staffing shortages continue to force our beloved restaurants, shops, and family-owned businesses to restrict hours or close their doors entirely.

Some lessons would be comical if they weren’t so head-shakingly unbelievable. We learned to limit our use of toilet paper and other essential, suddenly-hard-to-find necessities. We adjusted our food choices to what was available – or began growing our own. We found great reasons to put off dreaded doctor’s appointments, and we suddenly had an acceptable excuse to avoid seeing folks we didn’t want to see.

All of those changes – welcome or not – happened in the midst of shifting times where most anything could instantly become a debate, where family was pitted against family, and friendships with differences found their breaking point. Sadly, with relationships suffering, doors closing, and life as we knew it crumbling, fragile emotional health became like a pandemic in itself.

Without the ability to sit with a friend over coffee, run to Mom’s house for a meal and a good cry – or even go into a therapist’s office, it became more and more vital to discover ways to practice physical and emotional self-care.

My discovery: easy techniques for relaxation to use every day

It was during this time that I discovered meditation. In a conversation with a friend about difficulties sleeping, she suggested an app that includes sleep meditations. I was dubious, but I found that if I opened my mind to the possibilities, the meditations were soothing and effective. This not only improved my ability to fall and stay asleep, but improved my physical health, since overall health is so impacted by lack of sleep. I also found that when my mind was racing during the day, I could listen to meditations and do breathing exercises that helped to calm and reset my spinning brain.

Try the following exercises, everyday techniques for relaxation, calm, and focus. All can be completed on your own.

1. Five-finger breathing

This breathing exercise is so simple that it is even recommended for small children.

  • Holding one hand in front of you, use the index finger of the other hand to trace up the outside of your thumb on the extended hand.
  • Breathe IN slowly while tracing UP to the tip of your thumb.
  • Breathe OUT slowly while tracing DOWN your thumb on the other side.
  • Repeat on all four fingers, breathing in each time your index finger goes up, and out each time your index finger goes down.
  • Repeat as many times as needed.

2. Belly breathing

Although this relaxation technique can be done at any time of day, it is also helpful when falling asleep, since it can be done while lying down or seated.

  • Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest.
  • While breathing in deeply through your nose, feel your hand being pushed outward by your belly.
  • Then, breathe out through pursed lips.
  • Be sure that each time, you breathe fully in and out.
  • Repeat as many times as you would like.

3. Engaging the five senses

Pull attention away from your stressful thoughts by identifying what you can sense around you. This everyday technique for relaxation doubles as a mindfulness exercise, connecting you more fully with the present.

  • See 5 things in the environment around you – a forest cloaked in green, a painting, a book on your end table, etc. Identify each one (out loud or in your thoughts) and linger on it for at least 5 seconds.
  • Listen to 4 things – birds, dogs barking in the distance, the refrigerator humming, etc. Identify each one and linger on it.
  • Feel 3 sensations – cold air, a tightness in your chest, gentle breeze, clothing, your feet as they hit the pavement. Identify each one and linger on it.
  • Smell 2 smells – food smells from the kitchen, evergreen trees, a scented candle, lotion on your hand, etc.
  • Taste 1 taste – toothpaste, coffee, onions? If your answer is “nothing,” consider popping a piece of gum in your mouth or a few drops of lime juice in your water.

4. Commune with nature

Being outside in natural surroundings, even an urban greenspace, has been documented to be therapeutic – physically, emotionally, and mentally. If you can’t go outside, find a window with a view or treat yourself to natural sensations such as houseplants or nature recordings or videos.

  • Gaze at something that appeals to you: a tree, the blue sky, fluffy clouds, a flower.
  • Breathe in slowly through your nose; hold it; breathe out slowly through your mouth. Repeat as desired. Note any nature smells.
  • Shift your attention to a sound: birds, the wind, insects.
  • Repeat the breathing exercise.
  • Shift your attention to something you feel: a breeze, your toes in the sand, the bark of a tree, the cool water of a stream.
  • Repeat the breathing exercise.

5. Exercise a body scan

By focusing your attention on your body, you can shift away from troublesome thoughts and downshift to a more relaxed state.

  • Start by monitoring your head – ears, eyes, forehead, nose, mouth. For each spot, slowly consider what you are experiencing.
  • Move to your neck and shoulders. If you feel tension, note it, perhaps try to soften your muscles, but don’t judge.
  • Move slowly down your body – arms, torso, hips, on to the tips of your toes.

These easy techniques for relaxation and calm are not only easy and effective, but they can be done almost anywhere, at almost any time – for free! Now that brings a breath of relief!

Related: COVID and Mental Health for Seniors

Kari Smith

Kari Smith is a frequent contributor to Seniors Guide, helping to keep those in the senior industry informed and up-to-date. She's a Virginia native whose love of writing began as a songwriter recording her own music. In addition to teaching music and performing in the Richmond area, Kari also enjoys riding horses and farming.

Kari Smith