This area is set up to help the user learn and practice relaxation techniques designed to manage stress. Below are descriptions of five relaxation techniques followed by an MP3 file that can be downloaded for personal use. It is very helpful to approach these relaxation sessions with a “passive” attitude. This means letting whatever is going to happen, happen. It is not about forcing relaxation. It is about allowing the experience to unfold and being open to whatever happens. Distracting thoughts are common. If this occurs just gently bring your attention back to the facilitator’s voice.
Diaphragmatic Breathing is an easy and natural deep breathing technique used to induce relaxation by influencing your physical, psychological and spiritual well-being. Its opposite, shallow breathing through the chest, tends to disrupt the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide necessary to be in a physiologically relaxed state. That type of breathing will perpetuate the symptoms of anxiety.
Diaphragmatic breathing is marked by expansion of the stomach (abdomen) rather than the chest. It is a healthier and fuller way to ingest oxygen and is often used as a therapy for hyperventilation and anxiety disorders including panic attacks. It also massages and stimulates the vagus nerve which is responsible for reducing heart rate and blood pressure. The ideal goal for relaxation is 6 breaths per minute.
Progressive Relaxation is a technique that involves contracting and relaxing muscle groups throughout the body to help a person feel physically relaxed and less anxious. Often, your body muscles tend to ” brace” or contract as it prepares to defend itself against a perceived stress. A tight grip on something, raised shoulders, grinding teeth and squeezed stomach muscles are all examples of unnecessary muscle contraction. Because this “bracing” occurs unknowingly, most people don’t realize they’ve created their own muscle tension and increased their anxiety. Through Progressive Relaxation a person can differentiate what a tense muscle and a relaxed muscle feels like by purposefully contracting a muscle group for 5-10 seconds then relaxing it to identify the sensation. You begin with one muscle group and progress throughout the body until total body relaxation occurs. As the body becomes relaxed the mind follows and is less anxious.
The Deep Muscle Relaxation technique is similar to Progressive Relaxation but it is practiced mentally as opposed to physically. Take some time out of your day to sit or lie down while listening to soothing music. Mentally go through each muscle group in your body one by one and give them signals and suggestions to relax. This technique requires you to concentrate on each individual body part, imagining that it is loose and relaxed and remembering to use your deep breathing skills. You will feel the sensation of relaxation flow through your body. Initially, if you don’t feel the relaxation by sending mental suggestions to your muscles, you can actively tense and release them until you are more practiced with the Deep Muscle technique.
Autogenics, which means “self-generating,” is a relaxation technique that focuses on inducing warmth and heaviness in the extremities and the torso. When you are stressed, the blood flow in your extremities is constricted and goes to the big muscle groups leaving you with cold hands and feet. Though many are not aware of this physical reaction to stress, constricted blood flow has been linked to medical problems like migraine headaches and Raynaud’s disease. Autogenics is a way to restore circulation to the extremities by focusing on the sensation of warmth coming into the body. By repeating in your head “I feel warm and relaxed” and being open to the suggestion of warmth and heaviness in the limbs, you can actually raise your skin temperature which reduces your stress by eliciting the relaxation response.
Guided Imagery is a relaxation technique that uses imagery or visualization to create a soothing journey in the mind. This type of activity can be very helpful for people who can access their imagination and picture “the scene” in their mind. Incorporating all your senses as you listen to the guided imagery helps you create a more realistic experience. For example as you imagine a scene at the beach try and smell the ocean air, hear the waves tumbling into the shore, feel the sand wiggling through your toes and see the birds flying low over the horizon. For some people this comes very naturally and easily. For others, practice allows them to relax more deeply as time goes on. These types of activities are most effective when “practiced” regularly. Many people report a “conditioned response” so that after using the technique for a while they start relaxing as soon as they hear the facilitator’s voice. It is commonly used to help people fall asleep and some who have had trouble sleeping, report falling asleep before the “guided imagery” is over.