All of us experience anxiety at one time or another, but for those facing cardiac disease, anxiety, worry and stress can accelerate the progression of heart disease and/or interfere with recovery. Continual emotional distress, whether it is recognized or not, affects overall quality of life.

Do you feel anxious? Some of the more common symptoms of anxiety include:

Frequent worrying Dizziness
Restlessness Diarrhea
Muscle tension Nausea
Shakiness Trouble swallowing
Tiring easily Feeling keyed up or on edge Shortness of breath Problems concentrating
Sweating Disrupted sleep
Accelerated heart rate Irritability
(Also see the article “Inventory of Stress Symptoms” at Click on Heart and Mind Program, then Articles).

If these types of symptoms occur frequently and interfere with physical and emotional well-being, then it may be time to learn a healthier way to cope with anxiety. Relaxation techniques can especially help patients with cardiac disease, hypertension, anger, angina, arrhythmia, diabetes, pain, high cholesterol, sleep problems, preparation for surgery, stress-related disorders and wound healing. Relaxation is shown to promote long-term health and improve quality of life in patients dealing with serious health problems.

Therapeutic relaxation techniques help teach the mind to slow down and focus on breathing in order to reconnect with the body. The purpose is to bring our bodies back to a state of equilibrium, or balance, following disruptions that put stress on all the systems the body regulates. This is done by learning to reach a state of ‘thoughtless awareness’ from intrusive thoughts and maintaining focus on the body sensations that produce muscular and mental release.

There are many types of relaxation techniques and it is important to find the one(s) that work best for you:

Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Deep Abdominal Breathing
Guided Imagery
Art Therapy
Music Therapy
Regardless of the technique(s) that you prefer, breathing and practicing the technique(s) are essential components of relaxation. Here is a simple breathing technique you can use and practice everyday:

Restorative Breathing

1. Find a quiet place and lie on your back in a comfortable position with your arms at your sides, palms facing upward.

2. Place a pillow or rolled blanket under your head and knees. You can also place a cool towel over your forehead and eyes.

3. Relax your eyes and forehead, let your tongue gently drop from the roof of your mouth. Let the weight of your body melt into the floor (bed, sofa, etc.).

4. Focus your attention on deep, steady breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Inhale and exhale at a slow, comfortable rate.

5. Keep your thoughts on your breathing, how it feels, making sure the breaths are deep and steady. If your mind wanders, gently lead it back to your breathing.

6. Practice this technique at least 15 minutes everyday. The more consistently you practice, the more your body will learn to automatically find the relaxation response.

Numerous studies have shown that using relaxation methods can improve immune system function, decrease the likelihood of heart attack and stroke, significantly reduce the chance of a second heart attack, decrease blood pressure, reduce pre-surgical anxiety, speed post-surgical recovery, reduce post-surgical complications and reduce the need for pain medications.

Learning relaxation techniques will benefit your overall physical and emotional health, especially when dealing with major medical conditions. There is a profound connection between the heart and mind that therapeutic relaxation will help heal and restore.