Behavioral Relaxation Training

When a person is feeling anxious, is under pressure, or is nervous for some motive, it is because he or she experiences a prolonged state of generalized muscular tension in the body.  As a consequence of that muscular tension, the result is that anxiety, pressure, or nervousness ensue.

These procedures for training in behavioral relaxation have been developed with the goal of emphasizing the response of relaxation.  They are also effective in reducing as much as possible the uncomfortable sensations which are the product of muscular tension in your body.

Due to what is called reciprocal inhibition, you cannot be very relaxed and very tense at the same time.  Thus, by learning to relax your muscles you are actually learning to block tension.

You will be able to use these procedures in all the occasions that you deem necessary, as for the vast majority of persons, no harm occurs if you practice them as often as you can or want to.  These procedures have proven to be highly effective, and easy to learn at the same time.  For maximum effectiveness, follow these instructions.

Diaphragmatic Breathing.  To achieve a relaxation state it is best if you feel that the abdomen, that is, the area of your stomach, moves out as you breathe in the air, and goes in as you exhale.  This is very important.  If you notice that you lift your chest or shoulders as you breathe, or that your breath is very shallow, you should practice the abdominal diaphragmatic breathing as described below, as that is the type of breathing that is best associated to muscular relaxation.  Breathing by lifting your chest increases muscular tension, thus potentially producing anxiety levels which may lead to hyperventilation and panic attacks.

Ensure that you are breathing with your abdominal area (diaphragmatic breathing) and not your chest.  One way to practice this type of breathing is to sit comfortably and place one hand on your chest and another on your stomach area.  You should only be moving the hand on your stomach area, in and out, as you use the diaphragm to exhale the air or breathe in.  Practice this a while until you become an expert in diaphragmatic breathing.  Practicing in front of another person or even in front of a mirror may expedite your reaching this goal by providing you with immediate feedback.  Diaphragmatic breathing needs to become the way you breathe all the time.

Relaxation-Tension Scale (RTS).  To maintain an optimal relaxation level throughout the day, you can practice by checking your overall level of relaxation-tension by using the RTS scale.  This RTS scale ranges from 0 to 10, where “0” is total bodily relaxation, almost falling asleep, going up the scale to “10”, the maximum tension, as if you were about to fight with someone.  Check your overall subjective level with the RTS, and if you assess yourself at “4” or higher, do the following exercises.

Deep Breathing for Relaxation.  Take a deep breath and hold it in.  Count slowly to 10 in your head, about 10 seconds, and then let the air go, and start breathing in a relaxed manner, allowing the air to fill your lungs slowly and also exhale slowly, while counting again to 10.  Repeat this sequence five times, always alternating 10 seconds holding your breath, with breathing in and out, in a very relaxed manner, also for 10 seconds.  The whole procedure takes about 100 seconds, but provides excellent relief from muscular tension and the ensuing anxiety.

Learning by Association Principle.  You need to ensure that you will remember to practice the daytime deep breathing for relaxation many times throughout the day.  By pairing the deep breathing for relaxation with the end of chosen activities that you already do many times in a day, it will be easier to remember to relax often.  The goal is to maintain an adequate level of relaxation-tension throughout the day.

Examples of frequent daily life activities after which you can do the exercises are sending a text message, sending an e-mail, or after talking with someone in person or via the telephone.

To ensure that you are practicing at least two to four times an hour at the beginning of your training, you can keep tally on a piece of paper (or a card, sticky note, or even a piece of masking tape taped to your desk), or in your smart phone, tablet, or computer.  Later on, you may taper the frequency of your practice as necessary, as long as you feel in control of your relaxation-tension.

Profound Relaxation.  Give yourself 15 to 20 minutes each time you do these exercises.  The time you invest will result in your being more effective and efficient at your activities after relaxing your muscles and mind.  It is a good idea to look at your watch before and after each session, to ensure that you are actually relaxing for 15 to 20 minutes.  If you relaxed for too little or too much time, try to adjust accordingly in future sessions.  Initially, try to do the exercises at least three times a day.  As you progress in your training, once a day, especially at bedtime, should be sufficient.

If time is short or if you are in the midst of a tense situation, concentrate on maintaining your breathing as relaxed as possible, and try to maintain your mind focused on your goal of staying relaxed.  The use of a thought-stopping technique and a positive phrase, described below, is especially helpful under these circumstances.

Start your profound relaxation session by choosing the place where you will do the exercises.  Ideally, it should be a place free of distractions and noise, except for low and regular white noises such as from an air conditioner.  Set your cell phone to silent and turn off nearby office or household equipment that may be operating.  A convenient place is usually your own bedroom, if you feel comfortable, at ease there, and the temperature feels right.  You can also choose any other place, as long as you feel you can relax in that place.

Your next choice will be whether you want to lie or sit down.  Up to you.  What is important is that your body needs to be fully supported, that is, you should not have to use your muscles to maintain your posture, especially the head.  Your bed or a reclining chair are ideal for our purposes.  Remember, however, not to cross your legs or hold your hands or arms.

The clothing you are wearing should do, as long as it fits you loosely.   If not, untie that belt and unbutton your pants, dress, or skirt, remove your shoes, loosen your tie, if you are wearing one, and loosen or remove any other garment that you may wish.  Be mindful, however, of the environment.  If you wear glasses, you might also want to take them off.

Sit down or lie on your bed, and close your eyes.  Start your exercises by getting into the mental frame that you are going to relax because you wish to feel better.  Allow your muscles to go limp as much as possible.  Focus on the major areas of your body, from head to toes, one after the next, to ensure that you are using your muscles as little as possible.

Once you feel your body is as relaxed as possible, start concentrating on your breathing.  Try to make it as slow and relaxed as you possibly can, and breathe like this, for a minute or so.  In and out, very slowly, maintaining the rhythm, while thinking only about relaxing, your positive phrase, or keeping your mind blank.

Then, take a deep breath and hold it.  Count very slowly from 1 to 10, and then let go all that air.  Continue breathing slowly and regularly, with as little effort as you can.  Continue breathing slowly and in a very relaxed manner for about a minute.  Repeat the process two or more times, as you wish.

During the daytime, when you are ready, open your eyes, stretch a bit, and if you are at work, slowly and gradually return to your usual activities.  It is quite possible that you may have fallen asleep if you were in need of rest or were sleep-deprived.  If you did, you will probably feel more refreshed after you wake up and resume your activities.

At bedtime, this is an excellent exercise to do, as it will facilitate your falling asleep, as long as you try to stop all intrusive thoughts.  If you wake up in the middle of the night, do these exercises again as necessary, until you fall asleep, instead of thinking about what you have to do or did, the bills you have to pay, or worry that you need to sleep because you have an important event the next day.

Thought-Stopping Technique and a Positive Phrase.  It is a good idea to control any wandering, negative, intrusive, maladaptive, or repetitive thoughts, and concentrate on relaxing.  Just simply throw out of your mind, as soon as they enter, any intruding thoughts by uttering a big, loud “NO” in your mind, immediately followed by a previously chosen positive phrase like “I want to feel better”, and repeat it to yourself as often as you wish, so as to block any other unwanted thoughts.

Recommendations.  It is important that at the beginning you practice relaxation training many times throughout the day, until your body can easily sense that you are tensing, which oftentimes happens without you realizing it, as a consequence of your daily activities.  By maintaining an adequate level of relaxation-tension throughout the day, you will have better control when something happens that makes you tense, and you will likely be able to manage the event with better control as your level of tension should have room to go higher without you reaching the maximum and probably losing control.

By practicing this behavioral relaxation training you will be more effective and efficient in carrying out your normal activities, and will enjoy life more.  Do it for yourself and teach your loved ones to be more relaxed.  You need to Learn to Live Better ®.


© 2009-2020 Angel Enrique Pacheco, Ph.D., C.Psych.  All Rights Reserved.



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