Remember when we talked about alternatives to breath-based relaxation techniques? Well, I came up with four more. According to a leadership assessment I took several years ago, something I am really good at is collecting. Basically I store up everything – resources, activities, information, even other people’s strengths. It’s why, when someone contacts me about a project I am not a good fit for, I can almost always say, “But I have a friend who would be perfect for this!”
Anyway, all that to say I figured it can’t hurt to always have more relaxation activities on-hand that do not directly reference breath for when deep breathing may trigger trauma or physical pain, or for when a client simply prefers something else.
If a client struggles to deliberately take deep breaths due to anxiety or because “deep breathing” is a personal trigger, singing with them can cue the same activity without using the triggering term. The client can choose a song they enjoy or one that reflects their mood. While you may feel self-conscious joining them, having the therapist sing along can increase the client’s comfort with the activity while modeling singing as a self-regulation skill.
If you’re able, reach your right hand to your left shoulder, and give yourself a squeeze. Giving yourself a shoulder rub can promote muscle relaxation and bring down big feelings without specifically doing a breathing or muscle relaxation activity.
Have your client choose their favorite color or a color that symbolizes calm and relaxation for them. Together, slowly imagine the color filling them up, starting with the bottom of their feet, moving up their legs, up their torso, into their arms and hands, into their neck, and all the way to the top of their head. This can cue muscle relaxation and calming breaths, again, without having to speak specifically to these activities.
Sometimes when we are escalated, we lose touch with what is happening inside our bodies. This is especially true for trauma survivors. Balancing on one foot can bring the brain’s attention back into the body. Note: for this activity, if a client struggles with demand avoidance or for any reason prefers not to follow set commands, you can present this as “Do you think you can balance on your right foot for 10 seconds?” rather than telling them to engage in the activity.