You have heard time and time again when you are stressed out or anxious—Just relax! But what does that mean? In everyday parlance when someone urges you to relax, they are saying that you should calm down. As if it is so easy. Nonetheless, your friends and family were correct in advising you to calm down through relaxation. But what does that mean?
What is relaxation?
As a therapeutic intervention relaxation training has a long and illustrious history. Edmund Jacobson (1938) is the father of relaxation. Based on his work, thousands of research studies have been conducted examining the benefit of relaxation training for stress, anxiety, high blood pressure, anger management, chronic pain, and neurological disorders such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Parkinson’s disease, and essential tremor. In fact, relaxation has been shown to be as effective as medication for anxiety disorders and results in less medication for patients with chronic pain.
Relaxation for the conditions and challenges mentioned above requires training, practice, and use in real life (in vivo). There are many types of relaxation training procedures, but they all have five common elements.
· Passive attitude—To relax the person must be willing to allow the process to unfold; to be passive.
· Comfortable position—A recliner or chair with an ottoman to support your feet significant helps the person learn the skill of relaxation.
· A cue or stimulus—The use of key word, a mantra, attending to the rhythm of one’s breathing or concentrating on the sound of the voice of the counselor doing the relaxation training focuses attention and awareness on what it feels like to relax.
· Quiet environment—It goes without saying that learning to relax in a quiet distraction free environment is the place to start acquiring the skill of relaxation.
· Relaxation skills—Two skills are taught regardless of the relaxation method used: self-observation and active or passive motor skills. Self-observation refers to noticing tension, intrusive thoughts that pop up, and what relaxation feels like. Motor skills are the actions that are performed to produce relaxation. For example, positioning your body in a straight position with your feet supported by the chair or making a fist and gradually opening it.
Behavioral Relaxation Training (BRT)
Behavioral Relaxation Training, an evidence-based intervention for reducing arousal and anxiety. This training has shown it to be effective in managing many physical health and psychological disorders. BRT has been used across the lifespan to address the challenges of ADHD, chronic pain, anger, and movement disorders. BRT is the treatment option of choice when working with children, individuals with intellectual disabilities or neurological/neuromuscular problems where tense-relax exercises would produce more pain. BRT is elegant, easy to learn, and effective.
Individuals are taught 10 relaxed postures or behaviors through instruction, demonstration, rehearsal, feedback, and praise. The relaxed postures used have been selected following scientific research showing that the postures reduce muscle tension and respiration (breathing rate). Each training session is about 20 minutes, and most individuals can learn the relaxed postures quite quickly. Reclined relaxation is first taught followed by upright relaxation.
Home practice. Just like practicing your piano lesson or jump shot a to be skilled at relaxation and having it benefit the patient, they need to practice relaxation. Minimal practice is once per day for 15 minutes. The more skilled the patient becomes at relaxation, the quicker the benefit of doing so will be observed when it is used to manage health and behavior challenges. Recording of tension or pain ratings before and after relaxation practice helps patients transfer the skills form office to home and gives them feedback on their success. Counseling sessions shift to transferring office-based success in learning relaxation to using relaxation in managing stress and anxiety in real life situations.
Transferring office-based success to the real world
Patients do not have problems with living one hour of each week in the office of the counselor. The problems and challenges patients face and must cope with take place in their everyday lives—at home, work, traveling. Using relaxation in trigger situations is the critical step for success. Relaxation needs to be used at the first indication of stress, anxiety, pain or anger. Working with their counselor, patients develop treatment plans that allow them to unobtrusively practice and use relaxation in work and other situations leading to transfer of relaxation skills to situations that matter.
Making relaxation work for you
If you suffer from pain, anxiety, and stress, consider learning how to improve your quality of life through learning relaxation skills. Begin to reclaim your life. Just relax. For further information about relaxation or to make an appointment contact Clinical Counseling Associates of Kansas City.
By: Duane A. Lundervold
PhD, BCBA-D, LPC