Updated 26 June 2014

Two self-care relaxation exercises

Here are two relaxation exercises for caregivers that feel burnt out from the stress of caring for HIV/Aids patients.


Exercise 1: creating body awareness and letting go of tension
This relaxation exercise can be incorporated as part of your daily work routine. In between clients or activities set 10 to 15 minutes aside to let go of the tension that is building up during the course of a normal day.

  1. Select a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Remove your shoes, loosen your belt or tight clothing. Stretch out your back, arms resting by your sides, feet slightly apart, eyes gently closed.
  2. Think to yourself: “Now I am going to relax completely. When I am finished I will feel fully refreshed and energised.”
  3. Focus your attention on your feet, wriggle your toes, flex your ankles. Then let go, release all the tension and let your feet rest limp and heavy.
  4. Focus your attention on your legs, your knees and thighs, up to your hips. Imagine them just sinking into the floor or chair, heavy and relaxed.
  5. Focus your attention on your arms, elbows and upper arms, all the way up to your shoulders. Imagine all the tension just melting away.
  6. Focus your attention on your abdomen. Let the tension go and allow your breathing to flow more smoothly and deeply.
  7. Focus your attention on your stomach and chest, up to your throat and neck. As you continue breathing more deeply, just imagine all the tension flowing out as you are relaxing more and more deeply.
  8. Now focus attention to your throat, neck and head, feeling loose and relaxed. Relax your facial muscles. Let your jaw drop, parting the lips and teeth. Picture yourself completely relaxed.
  9. If you are aware of any remaining tension anywhere in your body, mentally go to that area and allow tension to release and dissolve away.
  10. Continue to remain in this completely relaxed state for five to ten minutes. You may picture pleasant thoughts or simply black your mind and enter a state of light sleep.
  11. When you are ready to get up, say to yourself: “I have been deeply relaxed. I am now ready to awaken, feeling completely refreshed, energized and relaxed.
  12. Begin to move by flexing the ankles, wiggling the toes. Then wiggle the fingers and gently shake your wrists.
  13. Bend the right knee and then the left knee. Bend the right arm and then the left arm.
  14. Open your eyes. Stretch each arm over your head. Then slowly sit or stand up and stretch again. You are now ready to continue your activities.

(Levey, 1987, p. 45 – 46)

Exercise 2: Visualisation technique

  1. Sit alone in a space and at a time when you are least likely to be interrupted.
  2. Lie down or sit comfortably. Close your eyes and feel yourself breathing, inhaling and exhaling smoothly and rhythmically.
  3. While continuing your breathing, imagine a scene that pleases you for the moment. Let us say for example that you chose to imagine the ocean. See the ocean, with the waves gently rolling up to the shore, and the beach with white sand.
  4. As you imagine this scene, place yourself in it. See and feel yourself lying on the warm sand. Feel your body sink into the soft sand. Feel the warmth coming from the sun and how it begins to relax you. Feel a gentle ocean breeze pass over your body. Hear the waves as they roll up to the shore and back out to sea.
  5. In this position you may repeat the steps of the relaxation exercise detailed earlier.
  6. Once you have completed this again focus on your breathing.
  7. Again imagine the entire scene in which you have been relaxing. Enjoy the deep sense of relaxation you have been experiencing.
  8. Count to 5 and slowly open your eyes.
  9. Remain sitting quietly for a couple of minutes before you continue with your activities.

(Bright, 1979, p. 29-33)

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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria in 2005. She is a patients' rights activist and loves using social media to teach about HIV. She is in private practice in Johannesburg.

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