Relaxation and Stress Management
By Jodi K. Caldwell, Ph.D.
Stress is something that we commonly
talk about in our society. However, we rarely take time to define Stress. What
is Stress? What causes Stress? How do we experience stress? Most importantly,
what can we do to manage our stress? Stress is a fairly universal experience
for all of us. Regardless of how our personalities vary in terms of intensity,
at one time or another, we will all be confronted with a situation that we find
STRESS is the result of our need to
adapt to change. The sources of change, stressors, can come from
one of four basic areas:
- Environmental stressors (e.g., weather, pollution, noise)
- Social stressors (e.g.,
job interviews, examinations, daily responsibilities, family demands)
- Physiological Stressors (e.g., illness, menopause, injuries, poor
nutrition, sleep disturbances)
- Cognitive Stressors,
i.e. your thoughts. (e.g., need to be “perfect”, interpretation
of others’ reactions)
While stress is often discussed in
terms of negative impact, it can be beneficial. A healthy level of stress is
necessary for optimal performance. However, it is when stress interferes with
our functioning, rather than optimizing our functioning, that we begin to
experience harmful effects. Consider the example of having a project deadline
at work. This is a social stressor that necessitates adaptation. The resulting
level of stress can be beneficial: it may cause an end to procrastination,
faster work, a sense of accomplishment, etc. However, if adaptation is resisted
then the stress can harmful: leading to feelings of helplessness, failure
How to Handle Stress
The first step to
handling stress is to recognize how vulnerable you are to
stressful reactions. The second step is to determine how
you experience stress. Stress can be experienced in 4 ways:
- Physical symptoms: headaches, stomachaches, sleep problems, hypertension, etc.
- Emotional symptoms: fear, anxiety, tension, anger, irritation, etc.
- Behavioral symptoms: withdrawing from others, increased irritation with others, etc.
- Cognitive symptoms: irrational thoughts such as “I can’t do anything right”, “I’m a loser”, etc.
The third step is
to devise a healthy strategy to manage your stress. There are several resources
you can access: Self-help books, websites, your own imagination, a
counselor or psychologist, etc. The following are just a few suggestions for
healthy ways of managing your stress. There is also a list of unhealthy ways
people often use to unsuccessfully manage their stress. How many of the
unhealthy ways have you used? What healthy stress management tools can you
begin to substitute for your unhealthy behaviors?
- Proper Nutrition
- Time Management
- Clear Communication
- Relaxation Techniques:
- Deep Breathing
- Taking a hot bath
- Reading a good book
- Listening to relaxing music
- Overeating/under eating
- Becoming Irritable with others
- Withdrawing from others
- Escape Techniques:
- Recklessness (driving, etc)
The possibilities are endless! Be creative. If you would like more information on how to effectively handle stress, please call the Counseling Center at (912) 478-5541 (Statesboro) or (912) 344-2529(Armstrong).
M, Eshelman, E. R., & McKay, M. (1995). The Relaxation & Stress Reduction
Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc
& Internet Resources
- Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook (Eshelman & McKay)
Relaxation Resources & Audio
Online Relaxation Exercises
The ability to relax is important in
effectively managing stress and anxiety. When we feel stressed, our bodies
react with what is called the “fight or flight” response. Our muscles
become tense, our heart and respiration rates increase, and other physiological
systems become taxed. Without the ability to relax, chronic stress or anxiety
can lead to burnout, anger, irritability, depression, medical problems, and
Allowing yourself to deeply relax is
the exact opposite of the “fight or flight” response. In 1975,
Herbert Benson described what he referred to as the “relaxation
response.” This is the body’s ability to experience a decrease in heart
rate, respiration rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and oxygen consumption.
Relaxation Exercises Can Help
There are many benefits to being
able to induce the “relaxation response” in your own body. Some
benefits include a reduction of generalized anxiety, prevention of cumulative
stress, increased energy, improved concentration, reduction of some physical
problems, and increased self-confidence (Bourne, 2000).
Relaxation exercises can be a
powerful weapon against stress. The following are some important facts about
- 43% of adults experienced adverse health effects from
- 75-90% of visits to a physician’s office are for
stress-related conditions and complaints
- Stress has been linked to the 6 leading causes of
death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the
liver, and suicide
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA) has declared stress a hazard of the workplace
- In the workplace, stress may be related to lost hours
due to absenteeism, reduced productivity, and worker’s compensation
benefits. This costs the American industry more than $300 billion annually
Source: Miller, Smith &
Utilizing a relaxation exercise to
help reduce stress or anxiety is like learning to ride a bicycle for the first
time. It is a skill that takes time and practice to do it effectively!
We cannot expect to develop a relaxation skill after trying it one or two
times, just as we cannot ride a bike well when we first try. Relaxation
exercises can seem deceptively simple at first, but using them well when stress
is high requires practice.
the Most Out of the Online Relaxation Exercises
For each of the relaxation exercises
below, it is recommended that you find a nice, quiet place where you know you
will not be disturbed for the duration of the exercise.
Find a comfortable chair that will
allow you to sit up straight using good posture (see photo). How you sit in
your chair is important for maximum benefit. Push the small of your back to the
rear of the chair and sit upright. This will allow you to take long smooth
breaths, and your lungs to fully expand with oxygen. Do not cross your arms or
legs, but sit with your legs at a ninety degree angle. Rest your arms
comfortably in your lap without using armrests. If you use armrests, this might
lead to muscle tension in your shoulders, neck and back.
Many people prefer to close their
eyes during these relaxation exercises. If you do not wish to close your eyes,
you might find a fixed point in the room and let your gaze fall upon it.
Discontinue the exercise if you experience physical or emotional discomfort.
You might try each of the relaxation
exercises offered on this page. Many people find that they prefer one or two
more than the others. When you find which one/s you like, it is recommended
that you practice them every day so you can build the skill and make the
exercise more effective for you. We suggest that you start with the
“Diaphragmatic Breathing” as this is an important introduction to the
The MP3 versions are
available for download or streaming, and are free for personal use. However, if
you would like to utilize these files for professional use, please contact the
Counseling Center at (912) 478-5541 for more information.
Depending on the program that you
use to play MP3 files, you may need to click on the link and then choose
“download” or each file may play automatically upon clicking its
The scripts for each of these
exercises are available as an Adobe Acrobat PDF file.
It is recommended that you begin
with this relaxation exercise.
In this introduction, you’ll learn how to make relaxation exercises work effectively
for you. Skills for proper breathing tecnhiques are demonstrated. Presented by
Dr. Allan Vives. Length: 9:13.
Diaphragmatic Breathing Script (PDF)
Deep Breathing: I
Enjoy being guided step-by-step
through deep breathing exercises that will give your lungs a pleasant, soothing
workout. Learn to pace your breathing for maximum effect. Presented by Dr. Jodi
Caldwell. Length: 6:43.
Deep Breathing I Script (PDF)
Deep Breathing: II
In this meditative exercise you will
learn to focus on your breathing and allow intrustive thoughts to melt away.
This skill is good for taking a break during a busy day. Presented by Dr.
Prentiss Price. Length: 7:28.
Breathing II Script (PDF)
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Learn to recognize when and where
you hold tension in your body and how to effectively release it, allowing
yourself to fully relax. Presented by Dr. Tobin Lovell. Length: 8:39.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation.mp3
Progressive Muscle Relaxation Script
Guided Imagery: The Beach
Take a mini-vacation as you are
guided through the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of a pleasant walk
along the beach. The “best” version of this audio file has sounds of
the ocean in the background. Presented by Dr. Prentiss Price. Length: 6:06.
Imagery The Beach.mp3
Guided Imagery The Beach Script (PDF)
Guided Imagery: The Forest
Let yourself be guided on a peaceful
walk through a beautiful, lush forest near a trickling stream. The
“best” version of this audio file has sounds of the forest in the
background. Presented by Dr. Chuck Zanone. Length: 7:07.
Imagery The Forest.mp3
Guided Imagery The Forest Script (PDF)
Sometimes it is helpful to repeat
certain phrases to yourself in order to deepen your state of relaxation. A
series of phrases are presented by Dr. Wendy Wolfe. Length: 6:14.
Relaxing Phrases Script (PDF)
Introduction: Much of the emotional
distress people experience is the result of thinking about upsetting things
that have already happened or anticipating negative events that have yet to
occur. Distressing emotions such as anger, anxiety, guilt, and sadness are much
easier to bear if you only focus on the present – on each moment one at a time.
These are exercises to increase your mindfulness of the present moment so that
you can clear away thoughts about past and future events. These meditations are
presented by Dr. Wendy Wolfe.
Mindfulness Meditation I Just This Breath.mp3
Mindfulness Meditation I Just This
Breath Script (PDF)
Mindfulness Meditation II Increasing
Mindfulness Meditation II Increasing Awareness Script (PDF)
Mindfulness Meditation III Sending
Thoughts Away on Clouds.mp3
Mindfulness Meditation III Sending Thoughts Away on Clouds
Mindfulness Meditation IV Sending
Thoughts Away on Leaves.mp3
Mindfulness Meditation IV Sending Thoughts Away on Leaves
Mindfulness Meditation V Sorting Into
Mindfulness Meditation V Sorting Into Boxes Script (PDF)
Adapted from: Linehan, M. M. (1993). Skills Training Manual for
Treating Borderline Personality Disorder. NY: The Guilford Press.
Benson, H. The Relaxation
Response. New York, NY: Morrow, 1975.
Bourne, E. The Anxiety and Phobia
Workbook. 3rd. Edition. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.,
Miller, L., and Smith, A. D.,
Rothstein, L. The Stress Solution: An Action Plan to Manage the Stress in
Your Life. New York, NY: Pocket Books, 1994.
Last updated: 7/17/2019