Stress Management Techniques
Stress Management and Relaxation Resources for Health and Wellness
Important Information to Review Before Trying Any of These Approaches:
All of these methods are safe and are not dangerous. However, if you find during any of these exercises, that the feelings that arise for you become too uncomfortable or are too intense or upsetting to you, please stop listening and call the Stone Center at 781-283-2839 to schedule an appointment Mon-Fri between the hours of 8:30-4:30. If it is after hours, you can call the same number and you will be connected to a clinician on call. Also, during the Progressive Relaxation Exercises, you do not need to tense your muscles too tightly, as you do not want to strain anything. Also, if you do have any muscle soreness, either avoid tensing that muscle group altogether, or be very gentle, to avoid possible injury.
Because these methods allow you to enter into a relaxed, almost dreamlike state, you must never play these scripts or practice these when you are driving. Please ensure that you and make sure you allow at least 10 minutes after returning to an alert state of mind before engaging in any physical activity which may require sufficient coordination.
Finally, make sure that you always do the last part of the exercise which serves to reground and reorient you back to the present feeling calm and alert.
Practicing these methods once or twice a day will provide the maximum benefit- decreasing stress and tension and helping to improve mood and relieve anxiety.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) Overview:
Dr. Jacobson founded PMR in the 1930’s. PMR is guided by the principle that muscles cannot be tense and relaxed simultaneously and by learning to relax our muscles, we teach ourselves how to relieve tension in the various muscle groups within our bodies.
The method of PMR is nothing more than tensing and relaxing various muscle groups in the body. Such exercises help us to recognize what it feels like when our muscles are tense and providing a tool for us to help relieve that tension and produce relaxation in these targeted muscle groups. This method of tensing and releasing muscles in the body then produces a deeper general state of relaxation.
Passive Muscle Relaxation Script:
Start out by taking two or three deep breaths … and let yourself settle back into the chair, the bed, or wherever you happen to be right now … making yourself fully comfortable. Let this be a time just for yourself, putting aside all worries and concerns of the day … and making this a time just for you … letting each part of your body begin to relax … starting with your feet. Just imagine your feet letting go and relaxing right now … letting go of any excess tension in your feet. Just imagine it draining away … and as your feet are relaxing, imagine relaxation moving up into your calves. let the muscles in your calves unwind and loosen up and let go … allow any tension you’re feeling in your calves to just drain away easily and quickly … and as your calves are relaxing, allow relaxation to move up into your thighs… letting the muscles in your thighs unwind and smooth out and relax completely. You might begin to feel your legs from the waist down to your feet becoming more and more relaxed. You might notice your legs becoming heavy as they relax more and more. Continuing now to let the relation move to your hips … feeling the excess tension in your hips dissolve and flow away. And as soon you might allow relaxation to move into your stomach area … just letting go of any strain or uncomfortableness in your stomach… let it all go right now, imaging deep sensations of relaxation spreading all around your stomach… and continuing to allow the relaxation to move up into your chest. All the muscles in your chest can unwind and loosen up and let go. Each time you exhale, you might imagine breathing away any remaining tension in your chest until your chest feels completely relaxed … and you find it easy to enjoy the good feeling of relaxation as it deepens and develops throughout your chest, stomach area, and your legs. And shortly, you might allow relaxation to move to your shoulders … just letting deep sensations of calmness and relaxation spread all through the muscles of your shoulders … allowing your shoulders to drop … allowing them to feel completely relaxed. And you might now allow the relaxation in your shoulders to move down into your arms, spreading into your upper arms, down into your elbows and forearms, and finally all the way down to your wrists and hands … letting your arms relax … enjoying the good feeling of relaxation in your arms … putting aside your worries, any uncomfortable, unpleasant thoughts right now … letting yourself be totally in the present moment as you let yourself relax more and more. You can feel relaxation moving into your neck now. All the muscles in your neck just unwind, smooth out, and relax completely. Just imagine the muscles in your neck loosening up just like a knotted cord being unraveled. And soon, the relaxation can move into your chin and jaws … allowing your jaws to relax … letting your jaws loosen up, and as they are relaxing, you can imagine relaxation moving into the areas around your eyes. Any tension around your eyes can just dissipate and flow away as you allow your eyes to relax completely. Any eyestrain just dissolves now and your eyes can fully relax. And you let your forehead relax too … letting the muscles in the forehead smooth out and relax completely … noticing the weight of your head against whatever it’s resting on as you allow your entire head to relax completely. Just enjoying the good feeling of relaxation all over now … letting yourself drift deeper and deeper into quietness and peace … getting more in touch with that place inside of perfect stillness and serenity.
Visualization and Guided Imagery:
Visualization and Guided Imagery are both ways we use our imagination to help relieve tension and produce greater relaxation within the body. Very early in infancy, we begin to perceive images – even before we know how to speak or comprehend words. It is through these images that our minds take in and begin to assimilate information.
According to the Academy for Guided Imagery, it is these mental images that form the basis for “who we think we are and what we believe our world is like, what we feel we deserve and what will happen to us and how motivated we are to take care of ourselves. These images have a strong influence on our emotional and physical health.
Extensive research has shown that repeated listening can:
a) Lower anxiety
b) Decrease depression
c) Strengthen self-confidence
d) Increase attention and concentration
e) Improve performance
f) Overcome destructive habits or obsessions
g) Reduction of binging and purging behaviors in bulimic disorders
h) Alleviate pain
i) Boost the immune system
j) Assist in medical procedures
Through visualization and guided imagery, we activate our right brain which is responsible for the feeling, sensing, and perceiving parts of us. In comparison, the left side of our brain is for thinking, judging, and analyzing.
Listening to the scripts allow us to bypass the seemly intractable beliefs and assumptions we have about ourselves and our experiences and become receptive to new ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.
You’re walking down a long wooden stairway to a very beautiful, expansive beach. It looks almost deserted and stretches off into the distance as far as you can see. The sand is very fine and light … almost white in appearance. You step onto the sand in your bare feet and rub it between your toes. It feels so good to walk slowly along this beautiful beach. The roaring sound of the surf is so soothing that you can just let go of anything in your mind. You’re watching the waves ebb and flow … they are slowly coming in … breaking over each other … and then slowly flowing back out again. The ocean itself is a very beautiful shade of blue… a shade of blue that is so relaxing just to look at. You look out over the surface of the ocean all the way to the horizon, and then follow the horizon as far as you can see, noticing how it bends slightly downward as it follows the curvature of the earth. As you scan the ocean you may see, many miles offshore, a tiny sailboat skimming along the surface of the water. And all of these sights help you to just let go and relax even more. As you continue walking down the beach, you become more aware of the fresh, salty smell of the sea air. You take in a deep breath… breathe out … and feel very refreshed and even more relaxed. Overhead you notice two seagulls flying out to sea … looking very graceful as they soar into the wind … and you imagine how you might feel yourself if you had the freedom to fly. You find yourself settling into a deep state of relaxation as you continue walking down the beach. You feel the sea breeze blowing gently against your cheek and the warmth of the sun overhead penetrating your neck and shoulders. The warm, liquid sensation of the sun just relaxes you more … and you’re beginning to feel perfectly content on this beautiful beach. It’s such a lovely day. In a moment, up ahead, you see a comfortable-looking beach chair. Slowly, you begin to approach the beach chair…. and when you finally reach it, you sit back and settle in. Laying back in this comfortable beach chair, you let go and relax even more, drifting even deeper into relaxation. In a little while you might close your eyes and just listen to the sound of the surf, the unending cycle of waves ebbing and flowing. And the rhythmic sound of the surf carries you even deeper and deeper still into a wonderful state of quietness and peace.
You’re walking along a path deep in the forest. All around you there are tall trees … pine, fir, redwood, oak, … try to see them. The rushing sound of the wind blowing through the treetops is so soothing, allowing you to let go. You can smell the rich dampness of the forest floor, the smell of the earth and new seedlings and rotting leaves. Now you look up through the treetops until you can see a light blue sky. You notice how high the sun is in the sky. As the sun enters the canopy of the treetops, it breaks into rays which waft their way down through the trees to the forest floor. You’re watching the intricate patterns of light and shadow created as the light filters down through the trees. The forest feels like a great primeval cathedral … filling you with a sense of peace and reverence for all living things.
Off in a distance, you can hear the sound of rushing water echoing through the forest. It gets louder as you approach, and before long you are at the edge of the mountain stream. You’re looking at the stream, noticing how clear and sparkling the water is. Imagine sitting down and making yourself very comfortable. You might sit down on a flat rock up against a tree or you might even decide to lay down on a grassy slope. You can see the mountain stream creating rapids as it moves, rushing around a variety of large and small rocks. These rocks are many shades of brown, gray, and white and some are covered with moss. You can see the sparkling water rushing over some and around others, making whirlpools and eddies. The rushing sound of the water is so peaceful that you can just let yourself drift … relaxing more and more.
You take in a deep breath of fresh air and breathe out, finding the subtle smells of the forest very refreshing. As you let yourself sink into the soft bed of grass or dead leaves or fragrant pine needles beneath you, you can let go of any strains or concerns … allowing the sights, sounds, and smells of this beautiful wooded area to fill you with a deep sense of peace.
Globe of Light (make sure you are relaxed before trying this script)
Now that you’re feeling very relaxed and at peace, imagine that you can see a violet globe of light … about the size of a grapefruit … suspended just above the top of your head. Imagine that this globe of violet light is luminous and semitransparent. Now see this globe of light begin to turn clockwise (or counterclockwise, whichever you prefer). As it turns it picks up any tension in or near the top of your head. Just imagine that as this globe of light turns right above your head, it is picking up and absorbing any tension you feel in your head. It is also picking up any racing, extraneous thoughts, allowing your mind to slow down and become calm. Just keep imagining the violet globe turning, picking up tension from the region of your head for as long as you like, until that area feels completely relaxed. (Pause for 45 seconds or as much time as you need.)
Now imagine that there is a luminous sphere of light, pastel violet, blue, or any color you prefer, out an inch or two in front of your face. Imagine that this sphere is beginning to revolve, slowly, clockwise (or counterclockwise, whichever you prefer). As it turns, it picks up tension and strain from around your eyes. Just continue imagine seeing the globe of light turning in front of your face, and , as it does so, it is picking up and absorbing tension from around your eyes and face. (Pause for 45 seconds or as much time as you need.) Now imagine moving the globe of light down to a spot an inch or so away from your neck. Let it be pastel violet, blue, green, pink or whatever color feels the most right. Again, see it revolving, slowly, clockwise (or counterclockwise, whichever you prefer). As it turns, it picks up tension and constriction in your neck. The longer it continues to turn, the more tension and constriction it can pull up out of your neck. (Pause for 45 seconds or as much time as you need.)
Now move the globe of light down to your chest an inch or so above your sternum, which is at the level of your heart. Again, allow the sphere to be pastel green, pink, or any other color you like. Imagine seeing it turn slowly. As it turns, it is picking up tension in your chest area. The longer it continues to revolve, the more tension it can pull out of your chest. (Pause for 45 seconds or as much time as you need).
Now move the globe of light down to the area of your solar plexus… a point in the middle of your abdomen right below your sternum. This is the place in your body where you are most likely to experience fear, hurt. Make the globe of light very luminous and pick the color for it that feels best to you. Then allow the globe to revolve slowly, picking up as it turns any fear, hurt, or other stressful feelings from the area of your solar plexus. Just continue seeing the globe of light turning right above your solar plexus, allowing it to pick up any tension, stress, or emotional discomfort you happen to be feeling there. (Pause for 45 seconds or as much time as you need).
Now let go of the globe of light and imagine your whole body being bathed by luminous, golden-white light. Imagine that this light enters your whole body at the top of your head and flows down into your neck...your shoulders...your arms… your hands… your chest… your abdomen… your hips… your thighs… your calves… and your feet. Allow this light to enter and fill every single cell of your entire body… and as it does, just relax more and more. You're experiencing this as a very soothing, comforting light. As it spreads through your entire body and enters every single cell, it brings a sensation of comfort, calm, and deep relaxation. it allows you to feel very much at peace … deeply calm and at peace.
Sometimes we are just looking for an exercise that will help us stay more focused in the present and teach us how to be more aware of our thoughts and our feelings. By doing this, we then can learn to have more control over what we pay attention to within ourselves and in our environment. This becomes a way of learning to focus and also, a teaching in letting go.
Sometimes even if we are not aware of the painful thoughts and feelings we are holding onto, they still continue to have a powerful negative effect on us. By increasing our awareness and mindfulness and making them conscious, we find that we are able to let them go more easily.
Leaves on A Stream
From the Mindfulness and Acceptance Workshop for Anxiety by John P. Forsyth and George H. Elfert
Click on one of the different audio files below for a quicktime video:
Start by getting centered and focus on the breath as you’ve done before. Just notice the gentle rising and falling of your breath in your chest and belly. There’s no need to control your breathing in any way...simply let the breath breathe itself. Allow your eyes to close gently.
Then, after a few moment imagine that you’re sitting next to a small stream on a warm autumn day. As you gaze at the stream, you notice a number of large leaves of all colors, shapes, and sizes drifting along, each at its own pace., one by one, in the slowly moving current. Allow yourself to simply be there for a moment, watching.
When you’re ready, gradually bring your awareness to what’s going on inside you. As you do, gently notice and label each experience that shows up...thoughts, feelings, sensations, desires, and impulses. pay attention to what’s happening in your mind and body and then label what’s going on. Perhaps one of these thoughts is “I don’t have time for this.”
As each thought, feeling, memory, or impulse comes along into your mind, notice them and gently place them one by one on each leaf passing by. Observe as each leaf comes closer to you. Then watch as it slowly moves away, drifting along as it carries the contents of your mind and body out of sight downstream. Return to gazing at the stream, waiting for the next leaf to float by. Continue placing each thought, feeling, memory, or impulse on its own large leaf. Watch each one as you let them just float away downstream.
When you’re ready, widen your attention to take in the sounds around you. Open your eyes and make the intention to bring gentle allowing and self acceptance into the rest of your day.