By Robert Common, Managing Partner, The Beekeeper
Buddhist approaches to mental health, which include Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), include the use of mindfulness and mindful meditation, the importance of always being present, and a focus on “self” rather than our environment alone [1-3].
All three of these approaches have shown success in clinical and scientific studies for being an effective therapeutic treatment option for various psychiatric conditions, including anxiety, depression, and chronic pain [2,4-8]. Given the success of these approaches, there are many lessons we can gain regarding how different beliefs and practices of Buddhism can contribute to making our lives better.
Core Concepts of Buddhist Approaches for Mental Health
Understanding the listed core concepts is important for being able to fully understand the contributions Buddhist practices have for mental health treatment [9-12].
These core concepts form the basis of various major lessons that the application of Buddhism to mental health can teach us.
Lesson 1: Focusing on The Perception of Self
The way in which we perceive ourselves is very impactful on our mental health [9-11]. In Buddhism psychology, introspection and self-observation are vital for identifying any behaviors that are causing issues in our lives, and then adapting those behavior.
Analyzing and understanding the nature of ourselves is necessary for being able to identify how our own behaviors and mental states are causing our suffering. For example, by being overly attached to how our experiences affect us emotionally, or by immediately having a negative reaction to an event. Without self-perception, we are unable to take personal responsibility, and ultimately, we will be unable to improve upon ourselves.
Through the power of perceiving which behaviors are influencing our suffering, we also gain the ability to change our perception of and reactions to our environment, and thus the ability to change any circumstances in our lives.
Lesson 2: The Importance of Taking Personal Responsibility for Our Actions
As the core concepts suggest, we are in charge of our own actions, which means we are also in charge of how our actions impact our mental health.
In essence, we choose the actions that we take, and we have control over our thought processes and how we respond to events; taking personal responsibility for our actions is an important step that, when combined with improved perception of self, can lead to changes in our behavior and thinking processes that will contribute to better mental health [9-11].
According to Buddhism Psychology, in order to improve our wellbeing, we first need to take personal responsibility for how we are causing our own suffering.
Lesson 3: The Value of Self-Development and Constantly Working to Be Better
Two of the Universal Truths in Buddhism state: “everything in life is impermanent and changing” and “there is no eternal, unchanging soul and “self” is just a collection of changing characteristics or attributes” . One of the ways these truths can be interpreted is that our “self” is always changing. Or, in other words, that we are constantly going through stages of self-development.
Focusing on the development of ourselves is key to achieving inner peace and happiness [9-11]. The success of Buddhist mental health approaches is reliant on our motivation and willingness to adapt to our circumstances, change our mindset and behavioral patterns, and to always be working on bettering ourselves. These practices teach us that the end of suffering comes from self-development.
Lesson 4: Finding Inner Peace and Utilizing That for Healing
A final lesson we can learn from Buddhist approaches to mental health is that true happiness and wellbeing come from finding and sustaining inner peace [14-16]. Inner peace comes from understanding and accepting your true nature (that is, accepting who you are, as you are) , and from achieving a state of mental calmness [14-15].
The main way to achieve this mental state is through meditation practices, such as mindful meditation [9-12,15]. Meditation can be performed in many different ways, for example, through deep breathing exercises, body scanning exercises, yoga, and more. Buddhist mindful meditation can help us develop the skills we need to relieve suffering from both ourselves and from others. Over time, with repeated use, meditative practices have the ability to guide us into a better state of being.
Overall Contributions of Buddhism Approaches to Mental Health
Buddhism Psychology and Buddhism-influenced therapeutic treatments for mental health provide a fresh take on how we think and talk about mental health, as well as on how our own behaviors and thought processes contribute to our mental health states.
Rather than focusing on suffering itself, Buddhism provides an alternative viewpoint – one that shows we are fully in control of our own wellbeing. We don’t need to focus all of our attention and energy on outside sources of issues in order to find inner peace; we can relieve suffering by changing behaviors that cause suffering and through changing the way we think about ourselves.
These approaches teach us that without digging deep to change negative characteristics or attributes that we possess, changing external factors such as our environment will only be a temporary solution for our suffering.
By Robert Common, Managing Partner, The Beekeeper
Buddhism teaches its followers to learn to look within themselves for truth and meaning. It also teaches that to successfully address issues in our lives, we need to focus on ourselves rather than external factors. In many ways, this concept can apply to the way we talk and think about mental health and mental health issues.
Core Beliefs of Buddhism
Before discussing the applications of Buddhism for mental health, it’s important to first understand the core beliefs of Buddhism . These beliefs are composed of the Three Universal Truths and the Four Noble Truths:
Three Universal Truths
Four Noble Truths
These core beliefs are the foundation of Buddhism Psychology.
Buddhism Psychology focuses on the idea that the primary cause of human problems comes from the human mind, not from our environment. Therefore, analyzing the nature of our own behaviors, and how our behaviors contribute to issues present in our lives, is necessary to relieve suffering [2-4]. An important aspect of Buddhism Psychology relevant for mental health is Buddhism mindfulness.
Buddhism mindfulness involves taking in moments as they come, and thinking about them deeply, without interfering with your processing of them. It is considered necessary for all aspects of the perception of self and self-awareness, taking personal responsibility, and ultimately, for our ability to make good choices [2-4]. Buddhism mindfulness is the basis for therapeutic treatments for mental health that bridge Buddhism practices, such as mindful meditation, with traditional Western therapies.
Buddhist Mindful Meditation
Buddhist meditation asks us to focus on the self rather than extend energy on outside sources of issues by using mindfulness to develop central values of Buddhism. There are four core foundations of Buddhism mindful meditation [4,5]:
Buddhist mindful meditation requires that those who practice it are motivated to develop the skills needed to relieve suffering from themselves and from others.
Therapeutic Practices Based on Buddhist Principles
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) utilizes Buddhism mindful meditation to rewire our mind and change the way we think about ourselves by combining this Buddhist practice with cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT) .
MBCT practices require us to think deeply about how our behaviors, choices, and thought processes are causing our problems, and how we can change our behavior to better our lives. A main goal of MBCT is to learn not to attach ourselves to thoughts or feelings that arise in response to a negative situation, nor to react to said situation, but rather to accept it and reflect on it without judgement.
Through this practice one can gain self-awareness regarding what triggers negative emotions and take control of their actions to better respond to negative events .
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)
Similar to MBCT, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) uses mindfulness training to assist people with stress and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression .
MBSR is typically an 8-week intensive course that uses a combination of techniques such as mindfulness meditation, body scanning, yoga, and exploration of our own patterns of thinking and behaving to increase wellbeing and reduce personal suffering . The goal of MBSR is to increase the development of skills, such as emotional regulation, and to reduce behaviors that cause rumination or anxiety.
In clinical studies, MBSR has shown beneficial effects for adults and children with psychiatric conditions, sleep disorders, and chronic pain [7-10].
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
Acceptance and commitment therapy is another therapeutic practice that brings together CBT and various aspects of Buddhism Psychology, including mindfulness meditation .
There are six core processes of ACT:
ACT has been shown through clinical research to be a useful treatment option for many mental illnesses, such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders, substance use disorders, and schizophrenia [12,13].
Through the success of these therapeutic practices, we can see that applying Buddhist beliefs and practices to how we think about emotions, suffering, and mental health have many beneficial effects for wellbeing. Core practices such as mindfulness, being present, and focusing on the self can allow us to find inner peace, ultimately leading to a higher state of wellbeing.
By Robert Common, Managing Partner, The Beekeeper
The Benefits of Applied Positive Psychology
The goal of positive psychology is to build upon our character strengths in order to have a more satisfying and fulfilling life. Researchers in this field seek to identify which elements actually contribute to making life not just happy, but also deeply meaningful, as well as how to apply these elements in our lives to improve our wellbeing [1,2].
The components of positive psychology have been covered in our previous article; in this article, we discuss how positive psychology can be applied to our lives and the benefits of doing so, of which there are many [1-3]. Positive psychology has wide applicability to different areas, such as therapy practices, self-help practices, stress management, mindfulness tools, and education [5,6]. Listed below are some of the ways applied positive psychology can improve your life.
Focusing on the Betterment of Self
It’s important to note that although the focus of positive psychology is fulfillment, the application of these theories do not ask that you ignore negative feelings or thoughts completely . Rather, positive psychology practices are designed to help you recognise that although you have weaknesses, you have strengths as well.
Instead of hyper-focusing on negative aspects, these practices focus on how to recognise your own strengths and build them up so that you can be the best version of yourself. Through doing so, you will also give yourself the opportunity to become a more resilient person.
Positive psychology places a high degree of value on building strong relationships, because for many of us, the bonds we form through social connections are important for giving our lives meaning. This is corroborated by scientific research showing that people with higher rated degrees of happiness also had stronger relationships with family and friends [7,8].
How we communicate with others is important for self-growth and the development of healthy relationships. Prioritising learning a positive way to communicate and on developing social skills such as compassion, kindness, and teamwork can enhance your overall wellbeing.
Improving Workplace Environment
Improving employees outlook of their workplace environment is necessary for maintaining employees’ happiness and enjoyment. This change in perspective can also lead to improvements in how employees respond to their colleagues [9,10].
Positive psychology can be implemented in different ways to promote this, such as by making employees feel valued in their work environment. When people feel valued and important, they tend to work harder, perform better, and find more success in their jobs [9,10]. Positive psychology can help employees feel that they are valued as a priority over their tasks, resulting in a healthy workplace morale and an environment where both the employee and the employer feel good.
Positive psychology can also be used in the workplace to encourage employees to view challenges in their jobs as an opportunity for growth, rather than as an unpleasant experience. This change in perspective can help employees enjoy their work in a meaningful new way.
Tools for Dealing with Failure
Realistically, failures are going to happen in our lives. The fear of this failure is difficult for many of us and can prevent us from confronting challenging moments and moving forward as roadblocks present themselves. Positive psychology can change the way you perceive failure by providing the necessary tools for how to deal with failures as they come – that way, this fear can be less impactful and have less of a hold over your life . For example, rather than viewing fear as something to be avoided at all costs, you can see failure as a learning opportunity and a chance to grow.
Applying positive psychology does not mean that hard times won’t stop coming, nor does it mean you have to pretend they aren’t. However, it does mean that changing how you view failure can give it less power in your life. Applying positive psychology can increase the confidence you have in facing obstacles as they arise.
Improvements in Your Community
The overall wellbeing of a community is dependent on the wellbeing of the individuals in it. Communities can mean any gathering of people that are coming together for a common reason, for example, a community made of people with a common interest, a common purpose, or in the same profession. In other words, communities are composed of collective mindsets, so in order for a community to be healthy, the mindsets within it need to have traits and virtues that will influence it in a way that is positive and allows it to foster. If a community goes through a tragic event, all parts of that community will be affected. It’s important then that everyone within a given community knows how to react to a negatively impactful event so that their community can be resilient and thrive under pressure.
Positive psychology is one way to ensure that members of a given community are on the same page and are able to respond positivity and in a manner that maintains the structure of their community. Additionally, positive psychology can teach community members the worth of sticking with each other through good and bad times.
Beyond a Positive Mindset
Fostering wellbeing is the primary focus of positive psychology. Foundationally, at its core positive psychology differs from other areas of psychology because as opposed to focusing on addressing weaknesses and problems, its goal is to identify and build upon positive mental traits in order to improve wellbeing and satisfaction.
Identifying your strong character virtues, such as courage, responsibility, or kindness, is an important first step towards applying positive psychology. In addition, some positive psychology practices you can do at home to promote your wellbeing and nurture your own happiness include gratitude practices, allowing yourself to savor moments you enjoy, being optimistic, and challenge negative beliefs that you hold about yourself. Living a life filled with purpose and meaning is a large part of what it means to be happy.
By Robert Common, Managing Partner, The Beekeeper
What is Positive Psychology?
Most of what we hear about psychology focuses on what causes unhealthy behavior and suffering, and how to improve or reduce those behaviors. Another side of psychology that you may know less about is actually focused on the opposite; rather than theorising on how to fix a behavioral problem, the field of positive psychology is concentrated on discovering a deeper understanding of what makes people happy and how to help people find more meaning in their lives .
Positive psychology has begun to emerge as a forefront in the field of psychology as people have become more interested in this topic and in the application of it for wellbeing.
Defining Positive Psychology
Researcher Dr. Martin Seligman is widely considered the founder of this field. According to the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Centre, positive psychology is “the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive” .
As the University of Pennsylvania’s definition implies, the focus of positive psychology is on identifying how to help human beings lead healthy and happy lives through elucidating the character strengths and behaviors that allow individuals to build a life of meaning and purpose. Additionally, researchers in positive psychology seek to identify what components contribute to people becoming happier, and how to apply those components in order to better our own lives [1, 2].
Positive Psychology: Not Just Positive Thinking
Positive psychology is not simply positive thinking; it’s important to distinguish the two in your mind, as they differ in several ways:
An important takeaway is that although positive thinking can be thought of as optimism, researchers in positive psychology recognise that there are times when a realistic or even negative view of a situation is more beneficial than thinking positively .
The Three Levels of Positive Psychology
Positive psychology is often referred to as having three separate levels :
The first is the subjective level, which focuses on feelings such as happiness, optimism, wellbeing, and other similar emotions or feelings and how they are related to your daily experience.
The second is the individual level, which combines feelings in the subjective level, such as wellbeing, with qualities and virtues that make you well-rounded, such as love, forgiveness, and courage.
The third is the group level, which focuses on the positive interactions you have with your community; this level includes altruistic traits that are good for strengthening social bonds, such as kindness, teamwork, and social responsibility.
The Three Focus Areas of Positive Psychology
Positive psychology is focused on three basic areas of study and practice 
PERMA Theory of Wellbeing
The PERMA theory of wellbeing, also sometimes referred to as the PERMA model of positive psychology, is a widely recognised model of positive psychology followed by researchers in this field . If we were to ask the question: “What makes a person happy?” the PERMA theory seeks to answer it.
The PERMA theory was developed by Dr. Martin Seligman [5,6]. The idea behind PERMA is that there are five elements, described below, that are the necessary components for happiness. The PERMA model is frequently used to explain and define well-being in a broader sense. Below is a breakdown of the five elements and explanations of how they contribute to wellbeing:
P – Positive Emotions:Increasing how frequently you experience positive emotions is one way to enhance your wellbeing. This includes increasing your positive emotions regarding the past (gratitude, forgiveness), about the present (mindfulness), and about the future (hope, optimism). Importantly, feeling positive emotions is just one route to wellbeing, so if you are a person that by nature does not experience positive emotions to a high degree, there are other routes you can take for finding satisfaction in your life.
E – Engagement:Being engaged such as through using your skillset, strengths, or attention during a challenging task, is another method for increasing wellbeing. The sense of engagement that comes with being engrossed in an activity that you find gratifying results in what’s called ‘flow’ – a feeling where you do an activity solely because it feels good to do so, and not necessarily for what you expect to get out of doing it. ‘Flow’ is the concept behind that familiar feeling we have all had of time stopping –when you’re fully absorbed in the moment and in the activity you’re doing.
R – Relationships:Social relationships are very important for wellbeing. For many of us, the connections we form with others give our lives deep meaning. Developing strong bonds is crucial for further developing social skills such as compassion, kindness, and co-operation.
M – Meaning:Having a sense of meaning or purpose in life is important for wellbeing and satisfaction. Finding meaning in your life can come from many different places, such as religion, family, work, social causes, and working in your community.
A – Accomplishment:The pursuit of achievement is in its own class of improving wellbeing. When we pursue our goals and achieve them, we feel a sense of accomplishment that contributes to feeling fulfilled and satisfied in our lives.
There are many benefits of the higher state of wellbeing brought on by utilising aspects of positive psychology, including reduced depression and anxiety, increased social and emotional wellbeing, and other positive outcomes associated with an increased sense of meaning and purpose in life [1, 2].
These benefits and the further application of positive psychology are discussed in the next part of this series.
By Robert Common, Managing Partner, The Beekeeper
Many aspects of our lives contribute to getting poor sleep at night, including diet, lack of exercise, work schedules, and so on. Getting poor sleep at night can have a slew of negative effects, from issues with concentration to irritable moods. However, poor sleep doesn’t just affect our behavior, it also effects our bodies. Physiologically, our bodies cannot function properly without getting adequate sleep every night1. To counteract this, it’s important to improve not only the quantity of sleep you are getting, but also the quality of that sleep.
One of the best ways to improve this is by having good sleep hygiene. To have good sleep hygiene is to have healthy sleep habits with the intention of improving your overall quality of sleep and wellbeing2. Described below are some sleep hygiene techniques that are easy to incorporate into your routine. After using some of these techniques, you should begin to experience better sleep and all of the mental and physical benefits that come with it.
One of the most important aspects of sleep hygiene is sticking to a sleep schedule and having a consistent nightly routine3. This routine can be composed of whatever makes the most sense for your lifestyle. Some ideas include:
Being consistent is important because it can help reinforce your mind and body’s circadian sleep-wake cycle3.
Reserve your Bed for Sleeping
It’s tempting to do activities such as working on your laptop or watching TV in bed, but it’s important to try and resist this. By only using your bed for sleeping, you are reinforcing to your brain the message that your bed is the place where you sleep. The reinforcement of this association can help you fall asleep more quickly.
Get Some Exercise
Regularly exercising is a great way to improve your sleep. As little as 30 minutes of exercise a day can help you fall asleep more quickly, improving your overall quality of sleep as well as your overall health5. However, it’s important to not exercise too close to bedtime. Exercising within an hour or two before you plan to go to sleep risks increasing your energy, which will make it more difficult to fall asleep.
Avoid NappingNapping during the day can make it more difficult to sleep at night. It can also make you more likely to toss and turn during the night, reducing your quality of sleep2. If you do need to nap to regain energy during the day, be sure to limit it to 30 minutes, and avoid doing so too late in the afternoon.
Don’t Use Your Phone Before Bed
An important technique for improving your quality of sleep at night is to stop using any electronic devices before bed. This is because electronic devices such as your phone, laptop, or tablet emit what’s called ‘blue light’. Blue light causes mental stimulation that can both make you more alert and reduce melatonin levels, making it more difficult to sleep4,6. Turning your devices off 30 minutes before you go to sleep can greatly improve sleep quality. Although I personally recommend at least one hour.
Try Meditating Before Bed
Relaxing before bed is important because one of the major causes of poor sleep is having high stress levels when you lay down; meditating is an excellent relaxation technique that can help calm your mind before you go to bed. Meditating calms your mind by removing you from any negative thoughts or emotions, slowing racing thoughts, and easing any anxieties that have come up during your day7. Utilising techniques such as meditating, mindfulness, and breathing exercises can aid in getting you better sleep8.
Everyone struggles with getting good sleep every now and then. It’s normal when life gets busy or stressful for our quality of sleep to decrease. What’s important is that we turn that around when we notice it and get ourselves and our bodies back on track – implementing sleep hygiene techniques is an effective way to do this. Try changing up your habits by introducing some of these sleep hygiene techniques into your routine, and soon you will experience the mental and physical health benefits of regularly getting a good night’s rest.
By Robert Common, Managing Partner, The Beekeeper
The Beekeeper began its work almost exactly a year ago, as the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the world. It was at a time when many other wellbeing centres in Cambodia were closing, and many people wondered if we were wise to open our social enterprise at a time when the economy was in turmoil and many foreigners were leaving Cambodia. We believed our services – combining western-theory-based therapy and eastern philosophies – were needed more than ever, given the harm COVID-19 and the restrictions and economic damage would surely cause to the mental health of people in Cambodia.
We are so glad we pressed ahead. Hundreds of people have passed through our doors over the last year, coming to speak with our expert therapists or attend meditation, yoga or sound healing with our teachers. Many of them have said that The Beekeeper helped them to escape the stress of the last year and heal from it. We’ve had to close our doors more than once to ensure the safety of our customers, but always continued to provide online therapy to those in need. We’ve also used our social media channels to share free help and guidance for all Cambodians.
Now we believe the mental wellbeing of Cambodians is at greater risk than ever before. After a year where the economy has suffered enormously, but Cambodia has escaped the worst health consequences and restrictions that other countries have experienced, that’s all changed. Now we all face the heartbreak of seeing infections soaring across Cambodia, and new deaths reported every day. The Government’s decision to lock down Phnom Penh is the right decision for physical health, but it comes at a great cost to mental health.
It is now widely understood that lockdowns may protect people from viruses but they increase stress, anxiety and other mental health challenges. That’s why we are making extra efforts to ensure that we keep offering online therapy to those most in need, and are supporting our own staff to provide these services from their homes. If you feel the need to talk to an expert professional during these trying times, please do get in touch. However, we also want to reach people who may not want to open up to a therapist but do need support.
So from today we are going to be offering daily Lockdown Life Tips. Our therapists and teachers will be providing simple tips on how to look after your mental and physical mental health during the lockdown. We will seek to offer these in Khmer and English so that all people in Cambodia can benefit.
If you have ideas or resources which might help other people, feel free to get in touch on our social media pages or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Most importantly, please look after yourselves and each other during this time. We will all get through this, helped by the vaccines rolling out every day, but we must get through it without causing unnecessary harm to ourselves in the process. We want to help and hopefully provide a little bit of good advice and light in dark times.
By Robert Common, Managing Partner, The Beekeeper
The ongoing global pandemic has resulted in big and unexpected lifestyle changes for many of us. Varying degrees of uncertainty are causing unusually high levels of stress for some; it’s understandable that even the most relaxed of people are feeling overwhelmed during these unprecedented times. Recent reports show that global levels of mental health issues have increased four-fold in the last year1,2.
This growth in mental health issues has made it clear that finding activities for promoting our mental wellbeing is incredibly important. Given that many parts of the world have stay-at-home measures in place, and many of us are staying inside, here we are suggesting activities for improving mental health that can be done at home.
Mindfulness practices teach you to refocus your mind on the present moment, rather than on thoughts or circumstances are currently causing you to feel stressed3.4. In times of stress our go-to response tends to be anxiety about the future. Rather than fixating on these feelings, mindfulness practices will allow you to learn more about yourself and discover what you need in order to feel emotionally balanced. Some mindfulness practices to do at home include:
Create a new routine
Good mental health in many ways relies on structure and keeping a regular routine. The ongoing pandemic and having to stay in our homes longer than typical has made it difficult for many of us to maintain this structure.
Adopting new routines at home can be an amazing tool for finding a new normal. For example, try setting strict work hours with scheduled breaks, create a schedule for exercising or going for a walk a few times a week, wake up thirty minutes early to meditate or pray, or go to bed thirty minutes earlier than usual to get your day off to a good start. Be honest with yourself about what you need and incorporate those needs into your new routine.
Low-impact yoga or stretches for relieving tightness and stress in the body
Yoga and other stretching exercises are known for their ability to improve mental health6, and some studies done in the last year have reported that these exercises have had particularly beneficial effects on mental wellbeing during the Covid-19 pandemic7. Many yoga exercises are low-impact and do not cause much physical exertion, meaning that although this pandemic may have you drained, incorporating yoga can relieve this feeling without taking up too much of your energy.
Exercise in general can be a healthy form of distraction from stressful situations, which can improve overall mental wellbeing. Taking care of your body will be just as important as taking care of your mind while maintaining your mental health during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Our mind and body work as one – if one is off, the other can struggle, resulting in a continued state of anxiety and stress.
Be kind to yourself
Practicing self-compassion has become especially important during these stressful times. Be nice to yourself; extend to yourself the same amount of kindness and care that you would give to someone else you love or care about, like a friend or a loved one.
For some of us, self-compassion may not come naturally; it is normal to feel a little guilt or put other negative emotions on yourself when things are not going as expected. Try to let go of the desire to burden yourself with those feelings and instead try rewarding yourself for managing everything that you are doing throughout these stressful times. Try this, and you may well begin to notice an improvement in your mental wellbeing.
By Robert Common, Managing Partner, The Beekeeper
A common occurrence when experiencing stress is to feel parts of your body tightening up. For example, your jaw clenching when you’re frustrated, or shoulder tightness after a taxing day. When stress builds up over time, it causes tension and tightness to build up in your body. Finding ways to relieve this tension is crucial for wellbeing.
Progressive muscle exercises, described below, are a way to use your body as a stress management tool for relieving tension, calming your mind, and promoting relaxation1.
What are Progressive Muscle Exercises?
Progressive muscle exercises are a relaxation technique that helps you release the tension you’re knowingly or unknowingly holding on to in your body. Some theorists say that without relieving this tension, you cannot truly relax1,2.
These exercises focus on relieving tension in different parts of your body1. The primary areas most commonly affected tend to be your shoulders, around your mouth (cheeks, jaw), your neck, and your hands and toes. However, tension can be stored anywhere in your body, so these exercises will be useful even if you’re feeling tension elsewhere.
How do Progressive Muscle Exercises Promote Relaxation?
These exercises work to promote relaxation by decreasing the effect stress has on your mind and body, and importantly, by releasing the hold that stress has over your body. The general method for performing these exercises is to slowly tense a group of muscles as you breath in, and then slowly relax those same muscles as you breath out3.
By releasing tension, this process has the ability to relieve stress and anxiety1-3. Using progressive muscle exercises for this purpose is known as “Progressive Muscle Relaxation” or “PMR”.
How to Perform Progressive Muscle Relaxation at Home
Find a quiet area free of distractions where you can sit or lay down comfortably. Relax your body, lay your arms on your lap, and take a few deep breaths. Once you feel calm, you’ll start by tensing and relaxing the muscles in your toes and progressively working your way up to your neck and head. Alternatively, you can tense your muscles starting from your head and moving down to your toes. Do whichever feels more comfortable for you. During each step, breathe slowly and evenly, and note the way it feels to have the tension leaving your body1,3.
Make sure when doing this that you focus on only one area at a time, leaving the rest of your body relaxed.
lift your toes upward and flex your feet. Curl your toes and hold them in place for about 10-15 seconds. Slowly release the tension in your feet over the course of 30 seconds.
squeeze and tense your calf muscles for about 10-15 seconds. Slowly release this tension over the course of 30 seconds.
Thighs and Buttocks:
squeeze your thighs and your buttocks and hold this tension for 10-15 seconds. Slowly release this tension over the course of 30 seconds.
clench your abdominal muscles and take a deep breath. Hold for 5 seconds and release slowly while deeply exhaling.
take a deep breath and tighten your chest. Hold it for 5 seconds and slowly release this tightness with a long exhale.
Arms and Hands:
bring both of your hands into fists. Hold them toward your chest and tense your arms. Hold this position for 10-15 seconds and then release slowly over the course of 30 seconds.
Neck and Shoulders:
raise your shoulders up toward your ears and hold tightly for 10-15 seconds. Slowly release this tension over the course of 30 seconds.
Jaw and Mouth:
tightly close your lips together for 10-15 seconds and then release over 30 seconds. Smile as widely as you can for 10-15 seconds and then release slowly over 30 seconds.
wrinkle and squeeze the muscles in your forehead tightly and hold this position for 10-15 seconds. Slowly release this tension over 30 seconds.
Who can benefit from Progressive Muscle Relaxation?
Relaxation techniques like PMR can help anyone cope with everyday stressful experiences. Additionally, there is scientific evidence supporting PMR’s ability to aid in symptom relief for people who deal with sleep issues4,5, anxiety1-3, and other common issues brought on by stress such as issues with attention, concentration, emotion regulation, and memory3,5,6.
PMR is an easy, free, low-risk relaxation technique that can be done anywhere and is easy to incorporate into your stress management and self-care routine. With regular practice, PMR can lower the overall tension you feel in your body as well as your overall stress levels.
By Robert Common, Managing Partner, The Beekeeper
The current global situation has resulted in many of us feeling a little overwhelmed at times. Tiredness, frustration, and lack of motivation are feelings many people have been experiencing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. For some, working from home has caused work life to blur with personal life. For others, continuing to work in a regular workplace has its own stressors and worries. Either way, these negative feelings take their toll. Thankfully, there are tools available for relieving these feelings – mindfulness being a major one.
Mindfulness is a practice based on refocusing your mind on the present moment rather than focusing on thoughts that are causing you stress1,2. Instead of fixating on stressors, mindfulness allows you to focus on what’s happening in your body and in your surroundings in order to help you feel balanced emotionally and physically, ultimately promoting different facets of wellness1,2.
Described below are some easy-to-try mindfulness practices that can be used at home or at work while experiencing stress.
Mindful breathing exercises are an efficient method for centering oneself and promoting wellness that can be done in just a few moments. Also known as breathing meditation, these exercises incorporate both physical and mental approaches in order to repurpose energy to calm your nervous system and bring you into a stable sense of being1,2.To perform mindful breathing: spend a few moments focusing on your breathing. Allow your breathing pattern to be natural. Take big, deep breaths, and begin to count them. While inhaling, think about the physical sensation of breathing, and where you feel your breaths in your body: your nose, your chest, your abdomen. While exhaling, focus on your negative thoughts or emotions and imagine they are parting with you with every exhale. Continue performing this exercise until you feel your mind calming and your heart rate lowering as your mind and body become centered.
5-4-3-2-1 Coping Technique for Reducing Anxiety
One of the most popular methods for reducing anxiety is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique3. This exercise works through mindfulness by engaging all five of your senses at once. To start, close your eyes and begin breathing slowly. Pay attention to your breaths and how they feel as they come in and out of your body. Once you’re feeling calmer, look around and identify five things you see in your surroundings. This could be a table, a piece of paper, or something outside of your window. Any random object will work so long as it is in your line of view. Once you have acknowledged five objects, identity four things you can touch and imagine yourself touching them. Following the same method, think of three things you can hear, then two things you can smell, and finally, one thing you can currently taste. By acknowledging these objects, you are engaging with your brain in a way that allows you to take your thoughts away from whatever is stressing you in the moment3.
Full Body Scans
Body scan meditation promotes relaxation from head to toe1,2. Try this exercise at home when you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed.Find a quiet area in your home and lay on your back in a relaxed position. Close your eyes and focus your attention on each part of your body. Pay attention to the pressure you feel: your back on the ground, the placement of your hands, and so on. When you’re ready, move on to focusing deliberately on a particular part of your body, such as a place where you are feeling strain or tension – find where in your body your stress is settling. Tune in to any sensations or emotions that are tied to the tension present on this part of your body. Once you have become aware of it, gently let it go, and focus on the next area. Perform this throughout your body, and when you are finished, gently open your eyes, allow your body to breath freely, and move mindfully out of this moment.
Another helpful method is enlisting gratitude practices in everyday life. Gratitude is an essential component of mindfulness4. Practicing this exercise everyday can be very effective in reducing stress and improving mood.Instead of focusing on whatever is causing you stress, think about something positive that has happened today, or that is happening in your life more generally. Take a moment to identify it, name it, appreciate it, and think about how grateful or thankful you are for it. This method utilizes mindfulness to promote positive moods and good mental health. Practicing any of these mindfulness exercises will go a long way toward relieving stress and improving overall wellbeing. Additionally, they can provide you with a new perspective on life, which will lead to long-lasting improvements in your life1,2,5.
By Robert Common, Managing Partner, The Beekeeper
Sometimes throughout our day-to-day life we have different experiences, big or small, that negatively affect our mental and physical health. The toll this takes on us can be heavy and affect other aspects of our lives. This type of tension can affect everything from our ability to maintain relationships to our ability to focus on tasks or process our thoughts and feelings in the moment.
To lessen this burden, it’s important to establish a self-care routine and regularly practice healthy and productive coping mechanisms. Meditative movement and stretching exercises are an easy-to-incorporate, incredibly beneficial way to improve our wellbeing. Yoga and its accompanying stretching exercises are particularly well-known for their ability to reduce stress and promote wellness and relaxation. Described below are two types of yoga practices that can easily be done at home, as well as descriptions of how to perform specific recommended stretches.
Yoga has many different forms, but they are all designed to bring together breathing, stretching, posing, and meditation exercises to promote good health and overall wellness. Two types of yoga that are easy to do at home and not physically exhausting are:
1. Yin Yoga
Yin Yoga is a slower-paced form of yoga that relies on holding stretches for several minutes at a time. This type of yoga is designed to work on deeper tissues and restore elasticity rather than build on or engage your muscles. This form of yoga is ideal for calming your mind and finding balance
Restorative yoga is also a slower paced form of yoga that relies on slow-moving stretches with long periods of holding poses in place. This type of yoga enhances relaxation and allows you to experience deeper sensations of relaxation. It’s considered a good way to start your day or to relieve tension before bed
Listed below are some commonly used stretches that you’ll perform when practicing Yin or Restorative forms of yoga, along with brief descriptions on how to practice them at home:
Downward Facing Dog
Seated Spinal Twist
Of course, just knowing about these exercises isn’t going to help you; you have to do them. So, get started today! Be sure to listen to your body as you practice and not overextend yourself, and as you continue to practice yoga, look into new poses to continue to increase your meditative movement and enhance your health.