“People sometimes tell me to “just relax” … but I don’t know how to. Is that really all I have to learn how to do?”
Relaxation can help us cope with anxiety, but it will not be enough on its own. Although it would be nice to say “just relax” and have our anxiety magically disappear, it simply doesn’t work that way. Relaxation, however, is a great general stress management strategy and can help keep our body calmer and more resilient over time.
What counts as a true relaxation exercise?
People often count watching TV and other similar activities as relaxation. Although activities like watching TV might be enjoyable, it does not bring about the mental and physical response that makes it count as a relaxation technique. What we want is to bring on the relaxation response, a state of calmness that is the opposite of the stress response.
Our stress response is activated when our mind and body are preparing us for a threat. This “fight or flight” response can be lifesaving in emergency situations where we have to act quickly. When you don’t need the stress response, relaxation techniques tell your mind and body “the coast is clear” – and that this response is not needed.
The relaxation response is not just lying on the couch and channel surfing, but a mentally active process that leaves the body relaxed and the mind calm and focused. Learning relaxation techniques isn’t difficult, but it does take practice. You might even find yourself feeling more anxious when you first try relaxation techniques. At the beginning, schedule a time in your day that will be easiest for you and find a place to practice that is conducive to relaxation, such as in bed before going to sleep or in a comfy chair. Over time, you can practice in more varied locations, such as at your desk during a break or on the bus during your commute to work.
There are many different relaxation techniques, so experiment to see which ones work the best for you. Here are two techniques to try:
Additional resources for relaxation techniques:
Simon Fraser University’s Health and Counselling Service’s Media Library
The relaxation and stress reduction workbook, fifth edition. 2000. Eshelman, E.R., McKay, M., & Davis, M. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.