…says my massage therapist as I am laying face down on the massage table and she’s manipulating my arm and shoulder. I thought to myself, “I’m a behaviourist, what does that mean? I need an operational definition of relax. Tell me what to do.”
When we tell other people to “relax”, how helpful are we being really? We mean well. We want to see the person calm and comfortable, but relaxing is difficult and can be achieved in a variety of ways. The worst is when we say “relax” at the height of someone’s anxiety or upset. Again I ask, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN!? Suggesting I be something that I am clearly not able to be at this moment is frustrating. Far better to gently suggest or model what to do.
In these moments I find myself saying very little at all and I just breathe. I take deep breaths and wait for the other person to notice, follow along. Then I start doing some stretches or I give myself deep pressure on my arms and legs. I might grab a fidget toy and manipulate that while I continue my breathing; place one near the other person. No verbal directions, just mild suggestion in the form of modeling.
Relaxing takes times and requires patience in order to achieve it. Urgent rushes to “relax” seem quite the opposite of what we want to achieve. It is okay to wait it out and try different things.