Activities and Exercises

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR): technique to control and monitor the rate of muscular tension to decrease physical stress in the body.

PMR is one of my favorite relaxation exercises! It’s great too, because you can do it in pretty much any environment and at any time of the day. Personally, I like to do it right before bed to help me unwind and relax for the night. I also use this activity to do in group at least once a week and it’s always a favorite! 1200-539469-progressive-muscle-relaxation

The idea is mostly focused on isometrics, or isolating certain muscle groups one by one. I always start with the muscles in my right arm, then move to the left arm, neck and shoulders, to the legs, and finally feet. One “round” of exercises takes me about 15 minutes to complete. I do the first round at half-strength (so squeezing/tightening muscles half as hard as I know I can) and do one last round afterwards at full strength (squeezing/contracting muscles as hard as I can – without hurting myself.) Try it for yourself! Again, the goal is to feel more relaxed and decrease muscle tension. It feels like you have just gotten a massage, in a way.

The cycle I follow is:

  • Make a fist with your right hand (hold for 20 seconds for each movement)
  • Put your right arm straight out, fist with right hand, wrist flexed up toward you -knuckles facing you.
  • Right arm flexed to isolate bicep muscle.
  • Look straight up at the ceiling/sky, isolating neck muscles.
  • Look down, chin-to-chest.
  • Touch right ear to right shoulder.
  • Touch left ear to left shoulder.
  • Lift both shoulders as high as you can.
  • Sit forward in your chair a little, touching elbows behind your back.
  • Right leg straight in front of you, flexing right quadriceps.
  • Right leg slightly bent, flexing right calf muscle.
  • Right leg slightly bent, curling right toes under.

How do you feel after doing this exercise? Hopefully more relaxed! Remember to repeat the cycle a second time at ‘full strength’ to feel even less tension afterwards.

relaxFor more information on Progressive Muscle Relaxation, and for a better visual, check out: progressive muscle relaxation printable handout and guide.

TIP: Play around with different kinds of music while performing this exercise. Before bed, you could listen to a relaxing playlist. Be aware of your mood, what you enjoy, and how this will benefit you the most. You could listen to an environmental sound, such as beach waves, rain drops, lightning, thunder, birds chirping, etc. Or you could listen to upbeat pop-music in the morning to get you ready for the day. Find what works best for YOU! Enjoy.

10 Negatives Turned Positive

A couple months ago I read this really great article from and have used the reference in my groups many times! It always turns out to be one of my favorite (and most meaningful) activities.

Bottom line, there is good to find in every situation, no matter what. Yes, it’s hard to think about at the time, but with practice and patience, it becomes easier to see the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ or ‘the bigger picture’ or whatever other cliche you want to use to describe it. Just practice and be more mindful.

The exercise goes like this:2060226_1

  • One by one, go through each negative situation and read it out loud.
  • After reading it, challenge yourself to come up with at least FIVE good things that could come from each situation.
  • After, reflect on how you feel. The objective is to feel more optimistic and at-ease, rather than letting something small ruin your day.
  • Example: The situation is – Someone cut you off in traffic and you almost got into an accident.
    • The positives…
    • 1. I DIDN’T get into an accident, so lets not overreact for too long or dwell on it.
    • 2. I’m still going to make it to my destination.
    • 3. I am lucky to have a car in the first place.
    • 4. The other person probably feels sorry (and if they don’t, oh well! Sometimes we have to trick ourselves into believing so.)
    • 5. I can turn up the music, put myself in a better mood, and go on with my day.
    • and so on.

Here are some really good examples that I use titled: 10 Negative Situations Turned Positive from the Odyssey. The situations they give are –

  • Your alarm went off
  • The weather sucks
  • You feel a cold coming on
  • Someone took the last donut
  • You’re stuck in traffic
  • You thought it was Friday…it’s Wednesday
  • Your favorite clothing item is dirty
  • Everyone on Instagram has a better life than you
  • You failed an exam
  • Your expectations weren’t met

The idea is to make the situations as real or ‘everyday’ as possible. The ones listed above are very typical and happen day-to-day. So how are you going to choose to respond to them? Be creative with your positive outcomes!

Top 50 Most Meaningful Jobs

Here is a link to The Top 50 Most Meaningful Jobs in America! And Recreational therapy made #32! Not too bad, I’ll take it. I definitely feel rewarded every day and feel that I am 3aaefb63ac210cdd0b9af1cc628a04b0making a difference. I enjoy being the professional that patients see as “the fun one” or “the one where I can take my mind off things by doing the activities I enjoy.” I’m not forcing them to take medications, or determining their length of stay. All I do is provide new activities and new ways of coping!



Introduction to Recreational Therapy

I always get asked the same question when I tell people my job title…

“What is Recreation Therapy?”

I used to ‘dumb it down’ and say “well it’s kind of like social work but through groups and games.” But then I realized how degrading and untrue to the career that it is. Recreational therapy is more than playing games with patients. It’s being able to become independent in activities you used to enjoy doing before your injuries or diagnosis of a mental illness. Imagine your favorite activity – soccer, basketball, volleyball, drawing, coloring, playing videogames, or even watching TV – being stripped of your capabilities because of an auto accident, TBI, spinal cord injury, developmental disability, or onset of a mental illness. We underestimate the little things we do for leisure time and enjoyment to escape the stressors of life.

In my field, Recreational Therapy is an outlet for inpatient psychiatric patients to develop coping skills and identify new skills to use in their free time instead of resulting to drugs or toxic people/relationships. It’s a way for them to learn new activities that they didn’t have the opportunity growing up to experience. It’s a way to provide resources in their community to them through local recreation centers and crisis hotlines.

I’m excited and motivated to be into my first career at a young age right out of college in such an up-and-coming time for Recreation therapists and the growth of the field!

-Amber, CTRS (Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist)

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