James W. Caron, Ed.D. Connections Child and Adolescent Group Program


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For the past several sessions, we have been focusing on relaxation and meditative techniques, to help group members develop tools to regulate stress, improve focusing, and modulate moods.  Here is a summary of the methods we have worked on.  Please contact me if you’d like to schedule an appointment to learn more about these methods.

Key ideas in Relaxation and Meditative Techniques:

1)  Managing anxiety and stress utilizes the cognitive skills we work on in group.

2)  We have been introducing several Relaxation Techniques, to give individuals a tool to reduce the physiological effects of anxiety and stress.

3)  The first step in most relaxation techniques is Diaphragmatic Breathing (DB), also called “belly breathing”.  This is the normal way of breathing for many individuals.  But people who are prone to stress and anxiety often shift over to Thoracic Breathing, also called chest breathing–this is a shallower type of breathing which tends to be used under “emergency conditions”, but may over time become the predominant breathing method.  To learn diaphragmatic breathing (DB), the first step is to relax the chest and abdomen.  Focus on letting the abdomen swell, or bulge outward, to the front and/or sides, as you inhale.  It feels as if you are breathing into your stomache, although of course the air is going into the lungs.  Then release the air slowly, and the diaphragm returns to its resting position.  There are a number of positions for the chest and arms that can help you acquire DB, by immobilizing the chest and making it easier for the diaphragm to take over the breathing function.

4)  Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a technique that begins with DB, and then guides the individual to tense and relax various muscle groups.  The goal is to notice the difference between tense and relaxed muscle states, and to be able to move intentionally into a relaxed muscle state.  This is taught in phases, beginning with “full tensing” and gradually moving to “no tensing”.

5)  Visualization is a technique in which you create a specific image of a relaxing, stress-free place, and imagine the sensations you would experience in this soothing setting.  This is usually done in conjunction with DB, and draws upon the mind’s self-monitoring capacity:  i.e. when we are picturing a relaxing setting and imagining those sensations, the mind believes we are actually there, and shuts off the stress response.

6)  Mindfulness is more of a meditative perspective than a specific technique, and involves increased awareness of and involvement in the present moment, leading to an increased capacity to live in the “flow” of the experience, rather than observing, criticizing, doubting, and generating distress about the experience.  There are several exercises  to help children “sample” a mindful perspective, which can be applied to many daily situations.

7)  Handwarming, or temperature biofeedback, is another way to relax, by increasing blood flow to the periphery.  This is especially helpful for circulatory conditions such as Reynaud’s disorder and prevention of migraine headaches.  It is also a useful way to monitor the effectiveness of your relaxation technique, since relaxation generally involves a warming of the skin.  We use Biodots, a temperature sensitive sticker that can be placed on the back of the hand, near the joint of the thumb and first finger; the sticker changes color as the skin temperature changes.  Your child will get one of these to use at home.

8)  These are powerful techniques which can have lifelong benefits, both in terms of mental and physical health.  Learning these techniques requires regular practice, and anyone can learn them.  Children often find them somewhat frustrating initially, and even “silly”, and may need encouragement.  Individuals vary in terms of how much practice is required to feel a benefit.  Some will experience a profound change in feeling almost immediately, while others may need several weeks of practice.  Practicing a basic technique such as PMR will generally produce very good results within 3 months, and 6 months to a year of using a relaxation technique will deepen its effectiveness.  There are many variations on these techniques.

Sample activities to try at home:

1)  Try using a relaxation or meditation technique with your son or daughter.  If there is one that you already practice, you can take turns teaching each other.

2)  Encourage your child to find one or two times per day to practice, and some components can be practiced frequently throughout the day, without others noticing, e.g. diaphragmatic breathing.

3)  You can make individual appointments to learn more any of these techniques (kids and/or parents).  It is also possible that we could offer a Saturday morning workshop for children or parents who want more guided practice.

Learn, practice, and enjoy!