How to Relax: Let me Count The Ways (Part 1)
Many cognitive behavioral therapists advocate using some type of relaxation training to help prevent and manage physical symptoms of anxiety. If you are suffering from a panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, a phobia or just want to deal with excessive stress, you might benefit from learning to relax your body. There are many different methods that have been shown to be effective. I wanted to briefly review the major techniques that are being used.
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) has been used to treat anxiety disorders since the late 1950's. In PMR you learn to relax all of the major muscle groups in your body. You learn to become aware of where you carry physical tension in your body and how to eliminate the tension. Relaxation is the opposite of tension. An example of a PMR exercise is to make a fist, hold it, pay attention to the physical feelings in your fist, hand, fingers and forearm, let go of the tension and then notice the difference between the tension and relaxation.
Imagery is another popular relaxation technique. Closing your eyes and imagining a scene that you associate with a time that you were very physically relaxed can quickly create a feeling of physical relaxation. Scenes should target as many different senses as possible. There are also many "canned" scenes that seem to be effective for many people. For example, for most people the image of being at a beautiful beach, hearing the waves crash against the shore, smelling the air and feeling the sand can create a profound sense of physical relaxation.
Meditation is also a very popular relaxation technique. In meditation you attempt to focus your attention on one thing. You can meditate to a word, a phrase, an object or a sound. One very popular meditation technique is to focus on your breathing. Meditating not only helps to relax your body physically, but also helps to push out unwanted thoughts.
In my next post I will review several other types of relaxation. Please keep in mind that all of these techniques are skills that require practice.