by Linda J. Austin


Breadwinner, mediator, spouse, parent, sibling, student, teacher, homemaker, tutor, communicator, therapist, gardener, reader, writer, comforter, caregiver - we have many roles - roles determined by what is happening around us at the moment.


There's a lot of overlap, a lot of tension, a lot of stress. We can't stop the clock and do one thing at a time. We know all the needs have to be met, and we want to meet all those needs because we set a high standard for ourselves. But like ripples from one pebble, stress, anxiety and tension spills onto others.

Delegating tasks is one way to help alleviate stress. Sometimes though, there is no one else. Self talk, "I can do this" works as a temporary fix.

A nursing instructor once told me, "Breathing can solve most anything." I was skeptical. Most of us don't breathe correctly. We don't empty our lungs of air. We breathe shallowly. Sometimes under stress, we hold our breath. Here's a breathing exercise to calm your nerves and slow your heart rate. Your eyes may be opened or closed.

  • Take a big breath - expand those lungs
  • Breathe out s l o w l y - try to empty all the air from the lungs
  • Relax your shoulders as you exhale

Repeat three times

Do this exercise as often as necessary. It works well for children and adults, patients and caregivers.

If using this exercise with a patient try counting aloud after you give the instruction - "Inhale 2, 3, 4" - "Exhale 2, 3, 4." Hold the patient's hand while you two breathe together. Adjust the count according to the patient's breathing capability.

If the patient is anxious, try to find the source of the anxiety. Ask some questions. "Do you want to talk?" "Are you in pain?" "Shall I read to you?" "Do you want to listen to some music?"

There's a difference between an invigorating backrub with lotions, creams and powders, and The Back Stroke and The Cat Stroke, both of which are very relaxing, and may just send the patient into a pleasant nap or night's rest. You may also find yourself very relaxed and peaceful while doing this.



  • Patient lies on their side
  • You sit on the side of the bed or stand comfortably
  • Place one hand lightly on the patient's side
  • Place your primary hand on the patient's upper back
  • Slide your hand down to the small of the back as you breathe out
  • Breathe in, relax
  • Reposition your hand at the top of the patient's back
  • Continue as long as you wish or until the patient asks you to stop, or falls asleep



  • Have the patient lie on their stomach (if possible) with their back bare
  • Gently trail your fingers from the neck to the hips
  • Then let your other hand start stroking
  • Maintain a slow continuous motion with alternating hands
  • At the end the strokes become slower and lighter

If you're keeping a journal write about anxiety and how human touch affects it. If you are keeping a "visual journal" draw a picture of anxiety before and after human touch.


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