Article: An Anytime, Anywhere Relaxation Technique

From the CONCERN: EAP Resilience Library

Ah, relaxation. It can provide a needed break from stress and anxiety, and yet at the same time thinking about it can touch off those very same feelings. How many times has the phrase “Just relax” triggered the opposite response in you?

Some stress in certain doses can be put to productive use, but if it persists, it can have undesirable side effects. Conversely, relaxation has been shown to promote heart health, a stronger immune system and a clearer mind. So, the ability to initiate a relaxation response in your body and mind can be an important addition to your resilience toolbox.

Think of the relaxation response as your ability to kick start the flow of internal chemicals and signals that help your body and brain to settle down and rejuvenate, while staying alert.

It’s helpful to note that a relaxation response isn’t necessarily achieved by lying on a couch, catching some z’s, or spacing out—though there’s a time and place for that. A true relaxation response is achieved by reaching an active, conscious, and awakened mind state, one that brings feelings of ease and calm.

Relaxation can mean different things for different people and some activities may be calming to one person and energizing to another.  A Tense and Release, or Progressive Relaxation Technique can be a useful way to trigger a physical and mental relaxation response for most. It might seem a little counterintuitive, but when you tense and release your muscle groups, they often settle at a lower level of stress than where they started.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Make yourself comfortable, whether sitting in your chair, standing in line, or lying on the floor.
  2. Feel free to close your eyes.
  3. Try tensing your whole body for 2 seconds and then releasing that tension. Take a breath. What does the sensation of tension feel like? Are some areas more tense than others?
  4. Release the tension, letting it dissolve into relaxation.
  5. Take a breath. What does relaxation feel like?
  6. Now, starting with your head, continue this cycle with different areas of your body, all the way down to your toes, focusing on any areas that feel particularly tense.

Perform as many repetitions of the tense and release exercise as you like, and over time you’ll be able to adjust the technique to suit time constraints and circumstances.
Like all things, the more you practice relaxation, the more adept at it you’ll become, helping you to tackle daily challenges more quickly and with greater ease and calm. Doesn’t that sound relaxing?

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