Progressive Relaxation©

by Lorraine M. Dorfman, Ph.D.

Relaxation may be a prelude to sleep or it may stand on its own.  Relaxation is a useful coping strategy to deal with any arousing stressful situation.  Relaxation is part of hypnosis, meditation, focusing, and desensitization.  Basketball players use relaxation techniques before the free-throw to enhance performance.  Relaxation techniques may enhance performance on an examination.  It may be used to avoid a fight.  Progressive relaxation may be used throughout pregnancy and may be employed during the uterine contractions of labor.  Relaxation may enhance recovery time from an operation.  Of course, relaxation must be learned before it can be practiced.

It seems paradoxical to instruct someone how to relax.  Doing would seem to be the opposite of being.  Yet, relaxation involves focus.  Relaxation is a skill.  As such, relaxation has to be practiced.  Learning to drive a manual transmission car, shifting becomes second nature with practice, making it no longer necessary to concentrate upon the individual steps.  So too, relaxation can become second nature with practice.  Without practice, the skill will diminish just as one loses the ability to speak a foreign language fluently without having practiced for a number of years.  The more practice, the greater the skill, so that daily practice is optimum.  Furthermore, if relaxation is practiced at the same time every day, compliance is greater. 

The simplest relaxation technique is slow, steady rhythmic breathing.  A good way to imagine slow, rhythmic breathing is to imagine being asleep with a slowed respiration rate.  Each inhalation and exhalation is made to equal counts:  That is, if the inhalation count is four, the exhalation count will match it.  Learn to regulate your breathing without actually counting, as the counting will interfere with the relaxation process.  You could stop here or continue.  Deep breathing is the first step to those elaborated below.

The procedure for relaxation training outlined here is in four parts.  Although it is possible to use each part independently, just as deep breathing stands on its own, each of the four parts builds upon the one before in a sequence.  If you follow the parts in sequence, you will learn more efficient relaxation.  Each part requires a minimum of one-half hour to practice, so  allow yourself plenty of time.  The more the techniques are practiced, the faster one moves through the sequence.  Practicing once per day, it is possible to learn each part within two weeks, for a total of eight weeks.  Practicing twice per day, it is possible to learn each part within one week, for a total of four weeks.  However, each part should be mastered completely before moving to the next part, without rushing through the techniques.  Thus, moving at your own pace, it may take considerably longer.

Take note that these instructions assume total, healthy functioning.  If you suffer from arthritis, asthma, paralysis, or some other physiological condition, you will want to consult your physician before beginning these techniques.  Those learning progressive relaxation during pregnancy may work through all the steps, omitting the tensing of the stomach muscles in Alternate Muscle Tension and Relaxation.  To facilitate relaxation, the mother may make a "nest" for herself with pillows, supporting the back and joints, i.e. under the elbows and knees.

Children over the age of four years may perform these techniques with the help of an adult who reads the instructions and observes the children's movements to see that they are not straining themselves.  In order for children to rest comfortably in a chair, a child-sized, rather than an adult-sized, chair is recommended.  To see that the child understands the instructions, the child's comprehension level should be checked before proceeding with these techniques. 

                                                                     Preliminaries

Before beginning the exercises, it is necessary to attend to some preliminaries.  In order to be able to learn how to relax, you need to be in a comfortable and safe environment.  You need to be free of potential peril, interruptions, and distractions.  You cannot begin to relax while dinner is on the stove, the children are playing hide and seek in the living room, your roommate is typing a term paper, traffic dashes by thirty feet away, or pedestrians trip over your feet.

These techniques should be practiced indoors, in a private and quiet place, at a time when you may be alone.  To help acclimate yourself, try to practice at the same time each day.  Practice when the children are at school or in bed, when your roommate is in class or at the library, and when your family is otherwise occupied.  Be alone in the room alone and shut the door.  Tell any other people in the house that this is your time to be uninterrupted, and that you will attend to whatever they want when you are finished.

            The room should be relatively free of distractions.  Avoid harsh, glaring light.  Use floor and table lamps rather than overhead lights.  Use soft, instrumental music to muffle outside noise, if necessary.  The room temperature should be moderate, between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, not too warm and not too cool, and comfortable.  The room should be well ventilated.  Odors can be distracting.

These techniques should be practiced in a sitting or slightly reclined position, but not lying down, at first. Garments should be loose and not restrictive, so loosen your belt.  Remove your shoes.

Before beginning each technique, thoroughly read the instructions for each step.  You do not want to have to refer to the book while you are practicing.  You may read the instructions onto an audiotape, making certain to pay attention to the timing, which you then may play while you are practicing.  While recording, eliminate any distracting noises such as a ticking clock , telephone ringing, or honking horns.  Speak in an even, modulated tone.

Although it is possible to relax your body in any order, toe to head is used here and successive muscle groups are recommended.  As you proceed, if body parts formerly relaxed become tense, you must return to the last relaxed part and start again.  That is, if you notice the muscles of your calves are tense while you are focusing upon relaxing your back, you must return to your feet and proceed step by step.  You must start over as many times as is necessary to have a completely relaxed body.  Do not be alarmed if you should pass wind, drool, or fall asleep while practicing relaxation.  Simply take this as an indication of your success.

Take care to bring yourself back slowly to being fully present in the room when you have finished each relaxation technique.  When you wish to stand up, count backwards from five to one, feeling the energy returning to your body from toe to head with each count.  You will feel calm, refreshed, wide awake, and invigorated.

                                       Alternate Muscle Tension and Relaxation Technique

This technique is based upon Edmund Jacobson's relaxation technique.  The purpose of this technique is to help you to discriminate between sensations of muscle tension and relaxation in the various muscle groups of your body.  It is a preliminary step and important to learning complete relaxation.  Allow a minimum time of five minutes for each of the four main muscle groups (lower body, torso, arms, and head).  Note that each tension is held for five seconds and each relaxation is held for five seconds.  Each complete muscle tension and relaxation pairing is repeated for a total count of three before moving to the next body area.  We will proceed with this technique in 20 steps. 

Step 1

Place your buttocks all the way back in your chair.  Let your back rest against the chair.  Relax your mind and let go of disturbing thoughts.  

Step 2

With your mouth closed, breathe in and out.  Take the air into your lungs and let it out without holding your breath between each inhalation and exhalation.  Feel your lungs expand with air with each inhalation and contract with each inhalation.  Breathe slowly and rhythmically.  Just focus upon your breathing.  If your mind wanders, bring your attention back to your breath.

Step 3

As you sit there, feel your toes.  Keeping your feet flat on the floor, (1) curl your toes, arching them like a cat arches the back.  Feel the tension spread from your toes to the arch of your foot, all the way to the heel.  Hold the tension in your toes for five seconds.  Then, slowly and gently uncurl your toes until they touch the floor again.  Wiggle them if you have to until they are completely uncurled.  Hold the relaxation in your toes for five seconds.  Once again, (2) curl your toes and hold them there for five seconds, feeling the tension.  Then, slowly and gently uncurl your toes completely.  Let five seconds go by.  Now (3) curl your toes again, this time pressing down against the floor until your feet arch upward, pressing your heels to the floor.  Feel the tension in your foot.  Hold the tension for five seconds.  Then, slowly shift the weight to your heels while you uncurl your toes and rest your feet flat against the floor.  Rest your feet for five seconds. 

Step 4

Keeping your feet flat on the floor, (1) raise your toes into the air and hold them there for five seconds.  Feel the tension in your shins, calves, and thighs?  Slowly lower your toes to the floor, feeling the difference when your toes are once again resting on the floor.  Rest for five seconds.  Then (2) raise your toes again (five seconds).  Relax (five seconds).  Tense (3) again.  Relax.  Make sure you are relaxed from your toes to your knees.

Step 5

Now press your heels down on the floor, (1) tensing your thigh muscles.  Hold the tension for five seconds and then let go.  Do it again (2) and feel the tension in your thighs from your knees to your buttocks. Do it a third (3) time.  Release the tension all the way from your buttocks to your toes.

Step 6

Rocking on your pelvis, shift your hips forward slightly, pressing together the cheeks of your buttocks, tensing (1) your gluteus maximus.  You already can feel the tension in your hips.  Release after five seconds, first the buttocks and then feel the release of tension, traveling down to your heels.  Repeat two times.

Step 7

Arch your back, feeling the tension (1) move into your lower back.  Hold for five seconds.  Straighten your back, feeling your back supported by the cushion of the chair.  Tense (2) again, trying to keep your legs and feet as relaxed as possible.  Once more, relax into the chair.  One more time (3), tense and relax.

Step 8

Slowly pull in your stomach, gradually sucking it in further and further, until it feels as though it is going to meet your spine.  Hold your stomach (1) there without holding your breath.  Just as gradually as you sucked in your stomach, allow it to relax until it is in its normal position.  Try to do this without looking down.  Since you are sitting, your stomach will be slightly compressed anyway.  Now try to press your stomach out from the inside, letting your stomach bulge.  Press it out as far as it will go (2) and hold it there for five seconds, still breathing normally.  Inhale and draw your stomach back to its original position.  Let it rest for five seconds before you begin to draw back toward your spine again, feeling the tension (3) as you hold it for five seconds.  Release it slowly, rest for five seconds, and then press it forward again, out to fill the room as far as it will go.  Inhale and draw your stomach back to its resting position.

Step 9

Use your breathing to feel the tension in your chest.  As you exhale, force yourself to exhale just a little bit more and feel the tension in your chest (1).  Do not hold your breath.  Allow your lungs to expand and fill as you inhale, but consciously and deliberately inhale just a little bit more.  Feel the tension (2).  Exhale gently and take three more breaths without forcing and feel yourself relaxing, breathing freely.  As you breathe in and out (3), notice the rhythmic pulsing of the life energy emanating from your chest, running clear down to your toes.  Feel the relaxation traveling the same pathways, spreading through your body.

Step 10

Feel your hands resting by your sides.  Clench your fists (1), tighter and tighter.  Hold them tight for five seconds, then gradually unfold your fingers, feeling the tension flow out of your fingertips.  Make sure your fingers are straight as your relax them.  Clench your hands again (2) and feel the tension.  Gradually unclench them and feel the relaxation replace the tension.  Once more (3).

Step 11

Bend your hands upward at the wrists and tense your forearm (1).  Hold for five seconds.  Release your wrists and let your forearms relax for five seconds.  Tense again (2) and relax.  Tense and relax a (3) third time.

Step 12

Let the tension move from your forearm to your biceps.  Bending your arm at the elbow and still keeping your arms by your sides, tense your biceps (1).  Hold the tension for five seconds, then relax your biceps for five seconds by allowing your arms to drop to your sides.  Let all the tension flow down your arms to your hands and out through your fingertips.  Be sure the lower portion of your body is still relaxed.  Repeat this two more times.

Step 13

Raise your shoulders to your ears without tipping your head back.  Hold your shoulders there for a count of five seconds (1).  Feel the tension across your upper back, between your shoulder blades.  Slowly, inch by inch, lower your shoulders.  Rest your shoulders for five seconds.  Raise your shoulders (2) gradually and feel the tension mount.  Do this without tensing any other part of your body.  Now allow your shoulders to drop back down, gradually, until they are at rest.  Try it one more time (3).

Step 14

Pull your shoulders forward, trying to make them touch each other.  Feel the tension (1) in your upper back and chest as your shoulders pull forward.  Let your shoulders drop and sit up straight.  Feel the relaxation in your upper back and chest.  Tense your back (2) again, using your shoulders to tense the muscles, then release the tension.  Repeat (3).

Step 15

Slowly pull your head forward.  Allow your chin to drop to your chest.  Feel the tension (1) in your neck.  Feel the folds under your chin.  Pull your head back, all the way back to rest on your back.  Feel the pull on your neck and throat.  Allow your head to drop forward.  Roll your head gently until you find the most comfortable upright position.  Do this two more times (2, 3).

Step 16

            You are going to isolate the muscles in your face in three groups:  jaw, cheeks, and forehead.

Now tense (1) your jaw.  Clench your teeth together and bite hard.  Alternatively, you can place your lower teeth over your upper teeth, jutting out your jaw.  Feel the tension from your chin to your ears.  Hold the tension for five seconds.  Now relax your jaw.  Let it drop.  Do not mind if your mouth drops open slightly.  Use your hands to pull on your jaw if you need help relaxing it.  Five seconds.  Tense (2) your jaw again.  Bite down.  Now relax.  Relax your whole jaw.  Once (3) more.

 

Step 17

Press your lips together.  Press them without pursing them.  Your cheeks will be more pronounced.  Feel the tension (1) in your cheeks as you press your lips together for five seconds.  Now relax your lips and cheeks.  Relax your mouth and jaw.  Hold for five seconds.  Press (2) your lips together and feel how the tension in your cheeks is different from the tension in your jaw.  Relax and let go of the tension.  Feel it melt away.  One more (3) time.

Step 18

Close your eyelids.  Press (1) them tightly.  Tighter and tighter.  Feel the tension in your temples and forehead.  Or you can raise your eyebrows without opening your eyelids and hold for five seconds.  Relax without opening your eyes.  Make all the lines and creases relax.  Press (2) your eyelids again, wrinkling up your forehead.  Hold it there for five seconds.  Notice the contrast as you relax and smooth your forehead.  A third (3) time.

Step 19

With your eyes still closed, let your head sink back down into the back of the chair.  Feel your back and buttocks sink into the chair.  Your knees fall apart as you relax in the chair.  Feel the relaxation in your body from toes to head.  With every exhalation, the tension flows from your body.  You are completely relaxed.

Step 20

When the thought comes to you that you wish to get out of the chair, slowly start to count backwards from five to one.  As you start to count, slowly and gradually begin to open your eyes.  As you count, you will slowly become more and more awake, feeling calm, relaxed, refreshed, and invigorated.  At the count of one, you will be able to rise from the chair.  Five.  (pause)  Four.  (pause)  Three.  (pause)  Two.  (pause)  One.

                               Simplified Alternate Muscle Tension and Relaxation Technique

If you have difficulty learning to relax your whole body in one session, you may break the Alternate Muscle Tension and Relaxation Technique into six parts.  In the first session, just concentrate upon tensing and relaxing the feet and legs.  In the second session, concentrate solely upon tensing and relaxing the torso, working on the buttocks, back, and stomach.  In the third session, work on the hands and arms.  In the fourth session, isolate the shoulders and neck.  In the fifth session, concentrate upon the facial muscles in three groupings:  those around the jaw and mouth, those around the cheeks and nose, and those at the eyes and forehead.  In the sixth session, combine all the parts, tensing and relaxing the whole body.  Repeat this technique as many times as necessary to be able to relax the entire body.

                                                    Muscle Relaxation Only Technique

With this technique you will be learning how to relax your body, one muscle group at a time.  You will use the knowledge you learned with the Alternate Muscle Tension and Relaxation Technique to determine whether your muscles are relaxed or tense.  You will work from toes to head.  If at any point muscles that you already have relaxed become tense, STOP.  You must go back and start over.  When you are able successfully to complete all 10 steps in one session, you may practice reducing the time it takes to move from one muscle group to the next. 

Step 1

Place your buttocks all the way back in your chair.  Let your back rest against the chair.  Just relax and let go of your tension.

Step 2

With your mouth closed, breathe in and out.  Take the air into your lungs and let it out without holding your breath between each inhalation and exhalation.  Feel your lungs expand with air with each inhalation and contract with each inhalation.  Breathe slowly and rhythmically.  Just focus upon your breathing.  If your mind wanders, bring your attention back to your breath.

Step 3

As you sit there, feel your toes.  Keeping your feet flat on the floor, slowly and gently uncurl them until they touch the floor.  Wiggle them if you have to until they are completely uncurled.  Slowly and gently uncurl them completely.

Step 4

Check to make sure your heels are on the floor.  Feel them sinking into the floor as your calves grow heavier.  Your shins and thighs relax.  Your legs grow heavier with relaxation.  Release the tension all the way from your buttocks to your toes.

Step 5

Stop arching your back.  Release your buttocks, feeling them sink into the cushion of the chair.  Feel your back pressing against the cushion of the chair.

Step 6

Feel the rise and fall of your stomach as you inhale and exhale.  Feel the rhythm of your chest expanding and contracting as you inhale and exhale.  With each exhalation the tension of your body melts and floats away.  With each inhalation, you feel revitalized and calm and peaceful.

Step 7

Feel your hands resting by your sides.  Your arms feel heavy as they lay at your sides.  All the tension in your arms flows down your arms to your hands and out through your fingertips.  Your shoulders drop to rest. 

Step 8

Your head drops slightly forward, relaxing your jaw.  Your lips part slightly.  Your eyes gently close and your forehead is smooth and wrinkle free.  Relax and let go of the tension.  Feel it melt away.

Step 9

With your eyes still closed, let your head sink back down into the back of the chair.  Feel your back and buttocks sink into the chair.  Your knees fall apart as you relax in the chair.  Feel the relaxation in your body from toes to head.  You are completely relaxed.

Step 10

When the thought comes to you that you wish to get out of the chair, slowly start to count backwards from five to one.  As you start to count, slowly and gradually begin to open your eyes.  As you count, you will slowly begin to become more and more awake, feeling calm, relaxed, refreshed, and invigorated.  At the count of one, you will be able to rise from the chair.  Five.  (pause)  Four.  (pause)  Three.  (pause)  Two.  (pause)  One.

                                                    Relaxation with Imagery Technique

With this technique you will be learning how to relax your body with the use of imagery and breathing.  By pairing an image with the sense of relaxation, you will learn how to relax yourself by using a mental snapshot of a restful place.  You will use the knowledge you learned with the Muscle Relaxation Only Technique to release tension from your body.  Now that you know the feeling of relaxation throughout your body, you will no longer work on one muscle group at a time.  As with the last technique, if at any point you feel tense, stop and start over again.

Practice this technique until the mere thought of the scene you envisioned, such as the beach, stream, forest, field, or place that is most relaxing to you, generates a warm feeling inside that spreads throughout your body, relaxing you completely.  The question has been asked whether one can use a picture or photograph of a restful scene to trigger relaxation.  One may use a picture to begin, then hold that picture in the mind's eye.  The point is that the imagery as well as the sensation of relaxation is internal.  One should not have to carry the picture in a pocket or wallet or locket in order to be able to relax.  The picture is carried in the mind in order to relax.  If you do use a snapshot to associate with a mental image associated with relaxation, do not post the picture above your computer screen or on your desk if you want to get your work done.

Step 1

Place your buttocks all the way back in your chair.  Let your back rest against the chair.  Just relax and let go of your tension.

Step 2

With your mouth closed, breathe in and out.  Take the air into your lungs and let it out without holding your breath between each inhalation and exhalation.  Feel your lungs expand with air with each inhalation and contract with each inhalation.  Breathe slowly and rhythmically.  Just focus upon your breathing.  If your mind wanders, bring your attention back to your breath.

Step 3

            Allow any tension in your muscles to release and drift away.  Your arms and jaw and temples and forehead are relaxed.  Any stress is leaving your body, flowing out through your fingertips and toes.  As you relax, you are able just to drift and float into a deeper and deeper level of total and complete relaxation.

Step 4

            As you are relaxing deeper and deeper, imagine a lovely staircase leading to a special place.  This is a very special place for you that is yours alone where you can be peaceful and there is no one to disturb you.  This special place is any place you choose; you make it yours.  It is a place where you can relax and be at rest, peaceful and calm.  It can be anything you choose.  Perhaps you imagine yourself beside a mountain stream, in a tropical rain forest, on an open plain, in a haystack, or on a sandy beach.  It is your special place where you feel safe, calm, relaxed, and peaceful.  Notice the colors and textures, the sounds, and the smells.  (Pause.)  That’s right. 

We are going to imagine now a sandy beach.  The sand is so fine, it feels like a soft, deep, thick pile carpet, gently supporting your body, contoured to your back, knees, and neck.

As you lie there on the sand, the sun beats down on you, warming your skin.  The sky is clear and blue with gently swept white clouds.  The air is clean and sweet.  You drink it in, as much as you want, quenching your thirst.  There is a gentle breeze from the ocean that caresses your skin so that the sun warms you at just the right temperature, neither too cool nor too warm. The warmth is inside you, radiating from within.

As you lie there, you can hear the waves as they gently break and rush into shore.  The sound seems faint and far away, gently rocking you safely with a soft lullaby in the background.  Your breathing becomes slower and rhythmic, keeping time with the waves as they join the ocean and roll back to shore.  You are more and more relaxed with every wave.  You feel so peaceful and calm.  Waves of pleasure wash over you as the waves meet the shore.

You lie there on the beach, feeling calm and peaceful.  You have no worries or cares.  There is no time, no place you have to be, nothing you have to do.  You may stay there as long as you wish without consequence.

Step 5

When the thought comes to you that you wish to get out of the chair, slowly start to count backwards from five to one.  As you start to count, you will slowly begin to become more and more awake, feeling calm, relaxed, refreshed, and invigorated.  At the count of one you will be able to rise from the chair.  Five.  (pause)  Four.  (pause)  Three.  (pause)  Two.  (pause)  One.

                                                       Relaxation with Cue Technique

With the Relaxation with Imagery Technique you will have learned how to relax yourself using a peaceful scene.  In this technique, you will pair the peaceful scene with a cue or trigger word so that the cue will trigger a relaxation response.  To form the association, chant the trigger word while you relax, imagining the peaceful scene.  Say the trigger word on each exhalation as you breath calmly and rhythmically.  The word can be any one of your choosing.  The word we will use here is "relax".

 

 

Step 1

Place your buttocks all the way back in your chair.  Let your back rest against the chair.  Just relax and let go of your tension.

Step 2

With your mouth closed, breathe in and out.  Take the air into your lungs and let it out without holding your breath between each inhalation and exhalation.  Feel your lungs expand with air with each inhalation and contract with each inhalation.  Breathe slowly and rhythmically.  As you exhale, imagine the word "relax" appearing in your mind's eye.  Hear the word "relax" inside your head.  With every exhalation, let go of your tension.  Relax.  Feel the relaxation wash over you from toe to head.

Step 3

As you relax, imagine the restful scene you chose for the Relaxation with Imagery Technique.  (The rest of the instructions will proceed with the scene described in the last technique.)  Imagine yourself lying on a soft, white, sandy beach.  The sand is so fine, it feels like a soft, deep, thick pile carpet, gently supporting your body, contoured to your back, knees, and neck.  You are entirely relaxed.  Relax.

As you lie there on the sand, the sun beats down on you, warming your skin and you are relaxed.  Relax.  The sky is clear and blue with gently swept white clouds.  The air is clean and sweet.  You drink it in, as much as you want.  Relax.  There's a gentle breeze from the ocean that caresses your skin so that the sun warms you at just the right temperature and you are relaxed.  The warmth is inside you, radiating from within.  You are comfortable and relaxed.  Relax.

As you lie there, you can hear the waves as they gently break and rush to shore.  The sound seems faint and far away, gently rocking you relaxed.  You are calm and relaxed.  Relax.  Your breathing is slow and rhythmic, keeping time with the waves as they join the ocean and then roll back to shore.  You are more and more relaxed, breathing in and out. Relax.  You feel so peaceful and calm and relaxed.  Relax.  Waves of pleasure wash over you as the waves meet the shore. Relax.

Each time you think of the word "relax," no matter where you are or what you are doing, you will become comfortable, breathe deeply, and feel the tension melt away from your body as you relax.  Relax.  Whenever you want to relax, all you have to do is say to yourself, "Relax."   Without having to close your eyes, you will feel calm, relaxed, refreshed, and invigorated.

Step 4

When the thought comes to you that you wish to get out of the chair, slowly start to count backwards from five to one.  As you start to count, you will slowly begin to become more and more awake, feeling calm, relaxed, refreshed, and invigorated.  At the count of one you will be able to rise from the chair.  Five.  (pause)  Four.  (pause)  Three.  (pause)  Two.  (pause)  One.

Step 5

When you thoroughly have learned this technique, you may abbreviate it by simply pairing deep breathing with the cue word to relax.  Throughout the day, try saying your cue word to yourself and note what happens to your muscle tension and your thoughts.  You should be able to relax simply by using your cue word.

 

 

                                           Relaxation with Imagined Rehearsal Technique

In this technique you will use your cue word to maintain relaxation while presenting yourself with stress-provoking stimuli in imagery.  When you are able to maintain your relaxation, in spite of the provocation, you will imagine alternative solutions to stress-provoking situations.

Step 1

With pencil and paper, you will need to "map" the stimulus hierarchy.  Mapping is accomplished in two sub-steps. 

Sub-step A.  The first sub-step is to list all the provocative stimuli in the situation that is currently providing stress.  Be specific and describe each stimulus.  In other words, you would not say that your boss is being obnoxious because obnoxious is a conclusion word.  Instead, you would describe what it is that your boss does to be obnoxious, such as standing over you and literally breathing down your neck while you are speaking on the telephone.  You would not say the fans are sitting in the bleachers as you stand at the free-throw line.  You would say the veins in your temple and your neck are engorged with blood and pulsating.  If there is more than one situation providing stress, you will need to complete this technique for each of those situations.  Attempts to combine situations would be so confusing as to render this technique nearly impossible. 

Sub-step B.  The second sub-step is to rank the stimuli of sub-step A in hierarchical order from least bothersome to most bothersome.  Number the stimuli accordingly.  If you have only three items, you probably are not discriminating low levels of stress or between slight elevations in stress.  A ten-point scale is a good spread.  First, anchor those stimuli that are ever so slightly stressful, those that are moderately stressful, and those that are overwhelming.  Next, distinguish between small degrees of stress, as between third and fourth or sixth and seventh degrees of stress.  Think of each number as a degree or a step.

Step 2

You now are ready to pair relaxation with each step in the stimulus hierarchy.  Sit in a chair and make certain that you are completely relaxed, using your cue word.  Start by presenting to yourself in imagery the least stressful stimulus in the hierarchy.  Imagine the stressful stimulus in your mind.  What is happening?  Who is doing what?  The task is to stay relaxed as you imagine the stressful stimulus.  If you become anxious and your muscles become tense, stop and relax yourself.  Continue to present the first stimulus until you no longer respond with muscle tension.  Then, making certain you continue to be relaxed, move onto the next stimulus in the hierarchy. 

Individual sessions should not last more than forty-five minutes to one hour.  Sessions should end with being relaxed.  Only one or two stimuli may be presented in this amount of time.  Thus, numerous sessions will be needed to move through the hierarchy.

Step 3

When you are able to maintain a relaxed state and sit through the entire hierarchy of stressful stimuli, you are ready to imagine solutions to the situation that previously was stressful. This is an exercise in daydreaming.  Imagine the scene with all the sights, sounds, odors, and textures, as applicable.  Next, place yourself in the scene.  Since you have completed the first two steps, you will remain relaxed.  Imagine yourself performing a solution to the situation.  Then, imagine what might happen as a consequence of your behavior.  What is your judgment of your attempted solution? 

Start again.  This time, imagine a different solution.  What is the consequence of your behavior?  What is your judgment of this solution?          Remember, individual sessions should not last more than forty-five minutes to one hour and should end with being relaxed.  Only one or two solutions may be imagined in this amount of time.  Thus, numerous sessions will be needed to imagine alternative solutions.  You will select the solution that seems to present the best consequences.  Then, you are ready to try your solution for real.

                                                                In Vivo Relaxation

When you are able to relax by using your cue word, try your new relaxation technique in public.  Start with those situations that previously would present only mild levels of stress, such as standing in line, shopping in a department store, or riding the bus.  Next, try it when you are with your spouse or your children.  Build your level of self-confidence with smaller successes to give you momentum to tackle the more stressful situations.  Note that we are speaking of stress here:  For anxiety, see the corresponding chapter.  Please note as well that these techniques should not be attempted for situations that require alertness and attention and a certain amount of stress, such as driving a car, operating a chain saw, or confronting a mugger in a dark alley.

                                                                       Exercises

The foregoing techniques were all exercises in themselves.  The following exercises will add some dimension.

 

 

Exercise :  Relaxation Imagery

Relaxation imagery is any imagery that facilitates the process of relaxing.  Relaxation imagery is both the word that acts as cue and the effect.  Relaxation imagery usually is some metaphor or simile.  For instance, "heavy as lead" might be used to describe the sensation in your limbs when they are relaxed.  A different direction might be to describe the sensation of relaxation as "light as a helium balloon, rising in the air."  The key is for the imagery to match your personality.  If the words and images do not fit for you, they will not help you to find a state of relaxation.  Generate some key phrases of your own that accurately describe your relaxation.

Exercise :  My Special Place

In the 1980's, a holiday movie, starring Lee Remick with Angela Lansbury, talked about a special place that was not on a map, but existed in the heart.  What is your special place?  Perhaps it is a place you once visited and thought was the most beautiful place on earth and you keep the memory of it.  Perhaps it is not so much a place as a sensation, but you associate that sensation with sitting at your mother's knee, having the covers pulled up to your chin, snugly and warm, on a cold January morning, or sitting in a rocking chair by the fire.  For one gentleman, it was sitting at his kitchen table, looking out the window at the bird feeder hanging from the birch tree in the back yard.  For a little girl of seven years, it was sitting in the smooth dirt between the exposed roots of a giant oak tree at the edge of a forest a mile from home.  Take all the time you need to explore and find your special place that you can use for your relaxation.

Exercise :  My Relaxation Cue

Cue words are significant.  The word needs to conjure the image of relaxation as well as serving as the cue for the sensation of relaxation.  It is very important that your cue fit the uniqueness of you.  "Relax" may be too intellectual for your taste.  On the other hand, "peace" may symbolize it all for you.  You may need to work a bit to find just the right word for you.  Take caution, however, not to confuse signals.  For instance, "sleep" is not a good key word to signify relaxation.