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Easy deep relaxation exercise Print E-mail

Step-by-step instructions for a simple visualization exercise. After learning this easy relaxation exercise, you can call on it whenever you're in a stressful situation.

This is a simple visualization exercise that will enable you to relax deeply. It takes about 10 or 15 minutes to do. But once you've practiced it a few times, you can call on it instantly whenever you're in a stressful situation, before things get out of control.

Sit in a chair. If it's comfortable for you, keep your back straight. Breathe in through your nose to a count of four. Breathe out through your mouth to a count of eight. If you have some privacy, say "huh, huh, huh" at the end of the exhalation. Repeat the breaths four times.

Close your eyes. Tighten the muscles in your feet and then relax. Concentrate on feeling the muscles relax. Repeat. Tighten the muscles in your calves, relax, feel the relaxation, and repeat. Do the same with the muscles in your thighs, then with your buttocks stomach and lower back, then with your chest, then your upper back, then your shoulders, then arms, then hands, then neck. Make a face, scrunching up your facial muscles, relax, and repeat.

Think of a peaceful setting. It can be a beach or a forest or anything. The important thing is that it be someplace that you've been where you felt relaxed and happy and just all-around good. Remember what the place looked like. Picture the details in your mind. Then remember the sounds that you heard. Next, add in the smells. Then your sense of touch -- what do you feel on your skin? Finally, add in the taste. Let all your senses work as you reexperience this place where you felt great.

Stay in this place in your mind for about five minutes, experiencing it as vividly as you can with all of your senses.

When you are ready, open your eyes. Stand up, lift your arms over your head and stretch. Drop your arms and shake them out.

At this point, think about how you now know how to relax. It's a skill -- a learned skill -- and it is now in your repertoire of coping behaviors. The more you practice this exercise, the more skillful you will become.

Then, the next time you're feeling angry or frustrated or upset, this is what you can do. First, be aware of what's going on with your body. Do you feel any muscle tension? If so, where? Is your breathing different from the way it usually is? Is your heart beating faster? Do you feel any other changes in your body? Feel these physical symptoms that signal that you're under stress.

Stress is the body's natural response to danger. It floods the body with chemicals that prepare it to fight or to flee. This was very helpful in the ancient days when a danger might be something like a wild animal that you would need to fight or to run away from. But nowadays, many of the dangers that create stress are attacks not on our physical bodies but on our sense of self-esteem. Neither fighting nor running are helpful with that, but still the body creates fight-or-flight chemicals, and now these chemicals interfere with your ability to cope. They can build up to such a great degree that they flood your system and keep you from thinking rationally.

So what you do, when you realize that you have the symptoms of being under stress, is to take a few deep breaths and recall the peaceful place that you experienced in the relaxation exercise. Picture it again, vividly, in your mind. This will help your body cut down on the flow of stress chemicals before you become so flooded with them that you can't think straight.

Think of this as an emergency measure that will help you cope in a moment of crisis. Later, when you are no longer as upset and when you have some time, think about what caused you to feel stressed out. In every stressful situation, you are being "attacked" in some way, but it isn't always immediately obvious what the attack is. So try and think it through. Many stress-causing "attacks" are things that threaten your self-image, so that's a good place to start.

Another thing that's helpful to keep in mind as you do this introspection is that what you're reacting to, when you're stressed, is not the outside "danger" itself -- it's your _perception_ of that "danger" that triggers the stress reaction. You can examine your perceptions and see if you find them realistic or not.

Finally, if you are experiencing a great deal, perhaps an overwhelming amount of stress in your life, that's often a sign that you may need to reassess your direction, think about the big picture. If you discover what it is in life that you really want to be moving toward, and then move in that direction, you may find that while you are not rid of stress completely -- it's neither possible nor desirable to be _completely_ free of stress -- your stress levels will drop to a manageable level. And that's a very good thing.

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SAMHSA's Resource Center to Promote Acceptance, Dignity and Social Inclusion Associated with Mental Health