Relaxation and Stress Management  

Relaxation is a response that can lead to a variety of very positive benefits. It can contribute to psychological well being, physical health, and enhancement of cognitive functioning. When people are relaxed, they are able to solve problems more effectively, have a better memory, identify personal and family strengths and weaknesses, and develop more effective decision-making strategies to resolve problems and obtain goals. Relaxation can also help with psychological adjustment to physical illness and even facilitate medical treatment. It is also essential for effective pain management.  

Effectively relaxing requires two activities-- first is the use of a strategy to obtain a relaxation response, and second is the management of thinking.  Obtaining a relaxation response involves the use of a strategy to calm physical and mental states. When your mind and body are calm, breathing and heart rate are more regular, and your stomach is comfortable. There is less muscle tension throughout the body. Thought management is creating internal self talk and generating images that are relaxing, soothing and calming.  

Effective use of physical and mental relaxation will create a refreshing and energizing experience. The use of relaxation exercise and proper mental strategies often takes practice. The more often that relaxation is practiced, like any skill, the better it can be achieved. When practicing relaxation, at times different thoughts and images will come to mind. Some of these thoughts may represent inaccurate observations and beliefs. Other thoughts will be more soothing and relaxing. The goal is to identify any stressful thoughts and images, and to change them so they are more accurate, calming and relaxing. 

Relaxation Response Technique  

There are a variety of strategies that can be used for obtaining the relaxation response. It is necessary to develop an attitude of passive concentration when practicing the technique. It is not necessary to make a forceful attempt at concentration. Passive concentration is looking at thoughts and images as if one is watching a movie. Breathing is considered one of the quickest methods for initiating relaxation. When breathing to relax, remember to inhale slowly and exhale slowly. 

Thought Management 

Thought management is working with your thinking and images to create comforting and relaxing thoughts and avoid uncomfortable ones. This will further deepen the relaxation experience. Uncomfortable thoughts and images often come from past or current experiences or distorted ways of thinking about things. When the uncomfortable thoughts and images come to mind, avoid trying not to think about them through forcing them from your mind, instead just redirect attention to more relaxing or neutral thoughts. After this exercise, it may be helpful to take a few minutes to work with the tension-creating thoughts and images.  

When thinking about past experiences that have created tension, ask yourself  what was learned from the experience so as to make it meaningful and  educational. Past experiences can contribute to the development of beliefs that determine your perception of the present. Some of the beliefs may not lead to an accurate understanding of yourself, others, or the environment around you. Beliefs that are not accurate are ones that create errors in the thoughts and images that pass through your mind. The distress that is created from an experience is often the result of thinking errors.   

There are several common errors in thinking that reduce feelings of  relaxation and create tension instead. Common errors in thinking are catastrophizing or magnification, over generalizing, personalization, jumping to conclusion, disqualifying the positive, and exaggerating.