What is Good Quality Rest?
Rest can mean different things to different people. To some people rest means sleeping or just sitting down and ‘doing nothing’. To others, rest means being able to relax.
In terms of ME/CFS, when we use the word rest it means relaxation.
Relaxation is an ideal form of good quality rest as it enables the body to be calm and re-charge. As well as providing an effective rest, relaxation helps in the management of anxiety by decreasing muscle tension and stressful thoughts.
Rest in the day is a better way to relax than sleep because people often have poor quality sleep.
What is Relaxation?
Prior to becoming ill, you may have found that things such as reading, watching television or socialising with friends a good way to relax and unwind. These things may still be relaxing. However, in the treatment of ME/CFS, a good quality rest involves letting both the mind and body relax - achieving a state of minimal brain activity. Therefore, the above are not examples of good quality rest
This is partly because individuals with ME/CFS often find they have an overactive brain or that they suffer from ‘sensory overload’, whereby they are unable to process all the information that bombards our senses.
Practice your relaxation at least once a day, if possible. It is only through practice that you will learn to relax as this is a skill.
Do not relax too soon after a heavy meal. Allow about an hour in between eating and relaxing.
Allow plenty of time. Practice in a quiet room (preferably not the bedroom) where you are unlikely to be disturbed. Plan to set aside a time for regular practice.
Try not to fall asleep when you are practising your relaxation unless you are using relaxation as a technique to help you get off to sleep at the end of the day. If you do this use a specific relaxation technique that you do not use in the day.
Allow yourself to come round slowly after relaxing. Do not jump up suddenly to answer the telephone or doorbell - give yourself time.
Benefits of Relaxation
Enables the body to ‘re-charge’ and gain back some energy
Helps in the management of anxiety by decreasing muscle tension and stressful thoughts
Eases some of your aches and pains by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure for a short time
Helps to reduce the release of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol which can suppress immune responses and exacerbate the physical symptoms of ME/CFS
Can help to improve the sleep pattern
Promotes a calmer state - we do things more productively and use less energy when we are calm
Improves mental alertness
Rests the nervous system
It is important not to feel guilty about this way of using time. It can lead to a greater sense of well-being and allow the important events of life to be dealt with more efficiently. However, accept that it can take a while to incorporate a relaxed state into your life.
Give yourself permission to look after yourself.
Types of Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques are beneficial but need practice. Most people will find that some forms of relaxation suit them more than others. It is important not to give up after the first try, as relaxation is not easy to start with.
However with practice, your ability to relax will hopefully improve and you will have gained a useful skill. Ways to relax are covered in the following pages and could include:
- Breathing exercises
- Progressive relaxation techniques
- Guided visualisation technique
- Meditation or the practice of mindfulness
- Listening to gentle music, radio, taped books
- Alternative therapies such as massage, aromatherapy and reflexology
Supportive Rest Positions
The following resting positions can be useful for when you are practising relaxation techniques as they provide maximum joint support. It would be advisable to try all of the following positions to see what you prefer. Lying positions will be more restful than sitting positions as they send less information to the brain.
Some people have found certain types of cushions and pillows helpful, as well as mattress toppers
1. Crook Lying
Lie on back with your knees bent. Use as many pillows to support your knees as you feel you need. Support your head with one or two pillows. Place each arm on a pillow, giving support from behind the shoulder, along the length of the arm, wrist and hand.
2. Side Lying
Use as many pillows under the head as required. To support the arm that is uppermost, rest it on a doubled pillow. A pillow is then placed along the length of the back and “tucked in” a little underneath you. This prevents rolling backwards. One or two pillows are placed between the knees and this puts the hips and knees in a position of comfort and prevents the pelvis from rolling forward.
3. Long Sitting
Put as many pillows behind the head as you need so that the muscles of the neck and shoulder girdle can relax. Place one or two pillows across the front of the chest, with the arms rested over the top of these pillows, to further support the shoulder girdle. One or two pillows will be needed to support the length of the back. Beneath the knees have the support of one or two pillows. If the knees are left in a straightened position in long sitting it can stress the muscles at the back of the leg.
4. Chair Sitting
Sit in a high backed chair with arms. Ensure your head is fully supported, using pillows if necessary. You may find it supportive to have a small roll in the lower back. This roll can be made by folding a cushion in half or rolling up a small towel. It is placed across the lower back at a level at which your forearm would reach across your back and is a little above your belt line. To support the shoulder girdle, place one or two pillows across the front of the chest with the arms resting over the top of them. The forearms may be rested on the arms of the chair or lightly placed on the lap. Ensure that the feet are comfortably rested.
There are many books, DVDs and CDs available from the internet, libraries, bookshops and some alternative health shops. It is advisable to experiment with different techniques, as different types of relaxation will suit different individuals. Our service has created a relaxation CD which you are welcome to borrow, or keep if you get on with it.
Specific Relaxation Techniques
On the next few pages are three different strategies and scripts for relaxation techniques. These are designed to give you a taster of formal relaxation. Generally you would not read these scripts whilst doing relaxation but ideally would listen to them on a CD, DVD or memorise them.
a) Controlled Breathing - ‘Triangular Breathing’
This is a way to control the pace of your breathing.
As you breathe, imagine a triangle in your mind. Each side on the triangle lasts for four seconds. As you breathe, imagine your breath going along the triangle.
Breathe IN (1, 2, 3, 4) - Breathe OUT (1, 2, 3, 4) - Hold (1, 2, 3, 4) - (and continue)
b) Breathing from the Diaphragm
i) Breathe so that air is taken down to the abdomen i.e. your belly expands. Rest one hand on upper chest and one on navel and feel what happens when breathing in and out.
ii) Try to slow down each breath in and out to gain a slow, even rhythm and a flow from breathing in, to breathing out.
iii) Create a pattern of six to eight breaths per minute.
iv) Concentrate on taking a breath into the bottom of the lungs. As you exhale, allow your whole body to let go. Do 10 slow, full abdominal breaths without gulping in air or letting all your breath out in a rush.
v) Start doing this in a sitting position, then standing, then doing other activities.
vi) Practice for about 10 to 20 minutes, twice a day.