In the first session, we talked about adrenaline – that ‘fight or flight’ response to sudden, immediate threat. In today’s session more mention was made of cortisol, which is produced when we are under stress for longer periods of time.
The ill-effects of too much cortisol are widespread: from lowered immune system to causing fat to deposit around the abdomen, and decreased performance with concentration and memory. Of course, if you then feel anxious about how difficult you’re finding it to make decisions or process new information – that’s just more stress, and more cortisol!
The first of today’s relaxing techniques was focusing on an object – a pebble, in this case – in a similar way to last week’s focusing on the breath, but with the tactile experience. Close your eyes and hold the pebble in one hand. Really focus on the weight. Does it change? After several moments, explore the texture of the pebble with your fingers. How does it feel? Then, switch hands and repeat the experience, noticing as well the differences.
The second technique was ‘distraction’, or taking your mind and/or body somewhere else. The version we practiced was visualisation: imagining in as much detail as possible standing barefoot in a lovely grassy meadow. Really try to imagine the feel of the grass, the sound of the birds, the feel of the breeze. Then, allow the image to progress into a walk along a path towards some trees by the side of a river or stream. Sit comfortably leaning against one of the trees. Keep building the picture: the sound of the water, the warmth of the sun through the leaves. Look across the water and choose a tree on the opposite bank. Look at the bark – texture, colour – and the roots reaching into the soil. Follow a branch all the way to the end, to the leaves. See them stir in the breeze. As you watch, one detaches from the tree, and is gently blown down into the water below. With each of your exhalations, imagine watching the leaf drift away on the water until it’s out of sight. Again as you exhale, let the tree detach another leaf – a leaf that represents one of your worries. Watch it flutter down and then float away out of sight.