Relaxation training helps relieve stress

  • Published
  • By Jon Fishman
  • 95th Medical Operations Squadron
Relaxation training is one of the simplest, most readily available and cost effective stress interventions that an individual can learn and practice on their own. 

Techniques that have been shown to be effective, require no equipment, and are easy to learn include progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, meditative relaxation and mindfulness mediation. 

Progressive muscle relaxation involves breathing exercises and the deliberate tensing and relaxing of targeted muscles for a predetermined period of time. This technique is used in a sequential manner, progressively targeting different muscle groups. Progressive muscle relaxation can be used to help the individual cope with anxiety, stress and even pain. It is important to check with a physician and obtain some formal training prior to attempting this relaxation technique.
Guided imagery has elements that are similar to meditation, but there are some distinct differences. With guided imagery, the individual focuses his or her thoughts on a calm, pleasant and peaceful image. Some examples of calm and pleasant images are a cool beach on a summer day, sitting in a boat on a quiet lake, or lying in a hammock on a bright spring afternoon. The goal of guided imagery is to help switch the focus off of a stressor by focusing on something non-stressful. Of course, this technique only works if one has the time to sit quietly for a few moments. It is not recommended while driving or operating heavy equipment. 

The use of meditation has become increasingly popular in the past few decades as people look for alternative ways to deal with anxiety and stress. Previous research has indicated that interest in meditation among Westerners has existed for over a century, as scientists and individuals alike are drawn to both the physical and psychological benefits. 

Findings from the literature also indicate that the use of mindfulness meditation has positive mental and physical health benefits. 

With mindfulness meditation, it is important to understand the concept of mindfulness, which basically means awareness of the moment. Awareness equates being fully conscious of one's present state in the present environment, fully experiencing the moment without allowing the mind to wander or become distracted by what has come before or is going to happen in the future. When combined with meditation, the individual sits quietly with their eyes partially closed, but rather than focusing on breath or a mantra, individuals simply allow their thoughts to pass in a non-judgmental manner, as if they are an objective bystander. This type of meditation is the most difficult to master, but it is also one of the most effective. 

One of the easiest types of meditation to learn is meditative relaxation, which involves a focus on one's breathing or a repeated word or phrase. This type of meditation requires that the individual find a quiet place to sit, either on the floor or in a chair with a straight back. One does not need to sit in the lotus position with hands and fingers in particular orientation. The important factor is to place the body in a position that is not painful, but will allow to stay awake. 

For each of these relaxation techniques, it is strongly recommended that individuals consult a professional trainer before attempting these techniques on their own. 

For more information, call the Health and Wellness Center at 275-HAWC.