A promotion process can never be said to be a relaxing time. Even the best prepared candidates will have a degree of stress as they face their process and, for many, it can be completely debilitating. I’ve spoken to numerous candidates over the years who have pulled out of a promotion process when they felt they just couldn’t cope with the pressure, even after putting months’ worth of preparation and effort into it.
So, it may help you to have a few techniques in your locker than can help you relax and manage stress, not let it overwhelm you and so detract from your performance on the day.
For many of us, relaxation means flopping on the settee and zoning out in front of Netflix at the end of a busy day with a beer or glass of wine. This may work for some, but it does little to reduce the damaging effects of stress and any underlying anxiety.
In fact, to reduce stress, you need to activate your body’s natural relaxation response – a state of deep rest that puts the brakes on stress, slows breathing and heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and brings one’s body and mind back into balance.
Most relaxation techniques can be done on your own or can be aided using a smartphone app, of which there are many these days.
Here are a few apps that you may wish to try (I have not tried any of them but have heard good reports):
- Calm – For sleep and meditation
- DARE – Helps you through anxious situations as they arise.
- Breathwrk – Breathing exercises to help alleviate anxiety, fall asleep, get energised, and more!
- Stress & Anxiety Companion – An NHS app that helps you handle stress and anxiety on-the-go.
It’s important to remember, however, that there is no single relaxation technique that works for everyone. We’re all different. The right technique is the one that sits well with you, fits your lifestyle, and can focus your mind to provoke the relaxation required.
You may well be sceptical of some of the techniques, but there will be probably something that does work for you. When you do find a technique for you, regular practice can help reduce stress, improve your sleep, and allow you to focus your energy on effective board preparation.
Here are a few relaxation techniques that I have heard work well for officers as they embark on their promotion process.
This is a simple yet powerful relaxation technique. It’s easy to learn, can be practiced almost anywhere, and provides a quick way to get your stress levels in check.
– Sit comfortably with your back straight.
– Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach then breathe in through your nose (the hand on your stomach should rise whilst the hand on your chest should hardly move at all).
– Breathe out through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting your stomach muscles (the hand on your stomach should move in as you exhale, but your other hand should move very little).
– Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
– Try to inhale enough so that your lower abdomen rises and falls.
– Count slowly as you exhale.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is a two-step process in which you systematically tense and relax different muscle groups. With regular practice, it gives you a familiarity with what tension, as well as complete relaxation, feels like in different parts of your body. This can help you react to the first signs of the muscular tension that accompanies stress and take steps to mitigate. The theory is that as your body relaxes, so will your mind.
– Loosen clothing, take off your shoes, and get comfortable.
– Start at your feet and work your way up to your face, trying to only tense those muscles intended.
– Take a few minutes to breathe in and out in slow, deep breaths.
– When you’re ready, shift your attention to your right foot. Take a moment to focus on the way it feels.
– Slowly tense the muscles in your right foot, squeezing as tightly as you can. Hold for a count of 10.
– Relax your foot. Focus on the tension flowing away and how your foot feels as it becomes limp and loose.
– Stay in this relaxed state for a moment, breathing deeply and slowly.
– Shift your attention to your left foot. Follow the same sequence of muscle tension and release.
– Move slowly up through your body, contracting and relaxing the different muscle groups.
Progressive muscle relaxation can be combined with deep breathing for additional stress relief.
Body Scan Meditation
This is a type of meditation that that focuses your attention on various parts of your body. Like progressive muscle relaxation, you start with your feet and work your way up, but instead of tensing and relaxing muscles, you simply focus on the way each part of your body feels, without labelling the sensations as either good or bad.
– Lie on your back, legs uncrossed with your arms at your sides. Focus on your breathing for about two minutes until you start to feel relaxed.
– Turn your focus to the toes of your right foot. Notice any sensations you feel while continuing to focus on your breathing. Imagine each deep breath flowing to your toes. Remain focused on this area for three to five seconds.
– Move your focus to the sole of your right foot. Tune in to any sensations you feel in that part of your body and imagine each breath flowing from the sole of your foot. After one or two minutes, move your focus to your right ankle and repeat.
– Move to your calf, knee, thigh, hip, and then repeat the sequence for your left leg. From there, move up the torso, through the lower back and abdomen, the upper back and chest, and the shoulders.
– Pay close attention to any area of the body that causes you pain or discomfort.
– After completing the body scan, relax for a while in silence and stillness, noting how your body feels. Then slowly open your eyes and stretch, if necessary.
Visualisation involves imagining a scene in which you feel at peace, free to let go of all tension and anxiety. Choose whatever setting is most calming to you, whether it’s a tropical beach or a favourite childhood spot. Your ‘happy place’ so to say. For most of you, I am assuming this will be Anfield #YNWA
Close your eyes and imagine your restful happy place. Picture it as vividly as you can: everything you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. Just “looking” at it in your mind’s eye like you would a photograph is not enough. This technique works best if you incorporate as many sensory details as possible. For example, if you are thinking about a great holiday you have enjoyed:
– See the sun setting over the water
– Hear the birds singing
– Smell the pine trees
– Feel the cool water on your bare feet
– Taste the fresh, clean air
– Enjoy the feeling of your worries drifting away as you slowly explore your restful place.
When you are ready, gently open your eyes and come back to the present. Don’t worry if you sometimes zone out or lose track of where you are during a visualisation session. This is normal. You may also experience feelings of heaviness in your limbs, muscle twitches, or yawning. Again, these are normal responses.
Try taking a few minutes to massage yourself at your desk between tasks, on the couch at the end of a hectic day, or in bed to help you unwind before sleep. To enhance this technique, you can use aromatic oil, scented lotion, or combine with mindfulness or deep breathing techniques.
– Focus on your neck and head
– Start by kneading the muscles at the back of your neck and shoulders.
– Make a loose fist and drum swiftly up and down the sides and back of your neck.
– Next, use your thumbs to work tiny circles around the base of your skull. Slowly massage the rest of your scalp with your fingertips.
– Then tap your fingers against your scalp, moving from the front to the back and then over the sides.
– Now massage your face. Make a series of tiny circles with your thumbs or fingertips. Pay particular attention to your temples, forehead, and jaw muscles.
– Use your middle fingers to massage the bridge of your nose and work outward over your eyebrows to your temples.
– Finally, close your eyes. Cup your hands loosely over your face and inhale and exhale easily for a short while.
Mindfulness switches your focus to what’s happening right here, right now, enabling you to be fully engaged in the present moment, rather than worrying about the future or dwelling on the past.
It focusses your attention on a single repetitive action, such as breathing or a saying a few words repeatedly. Mindfulness is often applied to activities such as walking, exercising, or eating.
Using mindfulness to stay focused on the present might seem straightforward, but it takes practice to reap all the benefits. When you first start practicing, you’ll likely find that your focus keeps wandering back to your worries or regrets. But don’t get disheartened. Each time you draw your focus back to the present, you’re strengthening a new mental habit that can help you break free of fretting about the past or stressing about the future.
– Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted or distracted.
– Sit on a comfortable chair with your back straight.
– Close your eyes and find a point of focus, such as your breathing, the sensation of air flowing into your nostrils and out of your mouth or your belly rising and falling, or a meaningful word that you repeat throughout the meditation.
– Don’t worry about distracting thoughts that go through your mind or about how well you’re doing. If thoughts intrude your relaxation session, don’t fight them, just gently turn your attention back to your point of focus, without judgment.
The idea of exercising may not sound particularly soothing, but exercise that gets you into a flow of repetitive movement can produce the relaxation response. I can certainly relate to this when running, and just counting 1,2,3,4 repeatedly in time with my feet hitting the ground really helps me forget the pain of the run!
Adding a mindfulness component can benefit you even more. So, if you’re walking or running, for example, focus on the sensation of your feet touching the ground, the rhythm of your breath, and the feeling of the wind against your face. If you’re resistance training, focus on coordinating your breathing with your movements and pay attention to how your body feels as you raise and lower the weights. And when your mind wanders to other thoughts, gently return your focus to your breathing and movement.
Promotion preparation is never easy and hopefully some of these techniques will help you. Never forget though, in my opinion, the best way to reduce your stress is to have a plan to focus you preparation on what really counts and accept that success takes hard work and a lot of time. There can be no shortcuts.
In the meantime, chill-out and good luck.
Note: All the techniques given above are only included in relation to managing low-level stress with respect to promotion processes. If you feel that what you are experiencing is more than this, with feelings of anxiety and depression, the following NHS links may help you.