IPFW/Parkview Student Assistance Program

Self Help - Useful Articles

Relaxation—The Ultimate Stress Management

We all live with stress, the tension we feel when confronted with a new or threatening situation, or long term “overload”. Our sense of self-esteem and well-being is challenged by problems and frustrations. Our body will send stress signals to us through tension headaches, muscle or eye strain, heart palpitations, indigestion or general irritability. Stress can affect our ability to think, our memory, and our effectiveness at studying and completing assignments. 

Everyone needs to slow down at times, but slowing down takes practice. Giving yourself permission to relax can re-energize you both physically and mentally. The more you practice these four steps, the easier it will be to achieve results. 

Step 1: Deep Breathing

Deep breathing reduces anxiety and unknots tension by oxygenating the blood and lowering adrenaline levels.

  • Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose; then exhale through your mouth in a flowing rhythmic pattern.
  • Use your diaphragm to “belly breathe” as demonstrated when lying on the floor with a book placed on your abdomen. The book should go up and down as you breathe. This places oxygen in the lower third of your lungs which increases your blood oxygen content, decreases your pulse and relaxes your muscles.

Step 2: Muscle Tension Release

This helps you to examine the difference between a tense and relaxed muscle.

  • Create a slight tension of muscles starting at the head or feet; then release to feel the sensation of relaxation. Tension should not be extreme tightening, just enough to cause a slight contraction.
  • Scanning the body for muscle groups that feel tense, such as shoulder, neck, lower back, and then creating this slight tension, then release can train muscles to the feeling of being relaxed.

Step 3: Imagery

Our brains think in pictures, not in words like a typewriter. The pictures are what our nervous system responds to.  Because the nervous system does not know the difference between “real” and “imagined” images, relaxation through imagery can cause our bodies to slow down. To use imagery to relax:

  • Visualize a special place including details to enhance the picture (sunny, warm, mountains, beach, and season of the year).
  • Place yourself in the picture and see yourself the way you want to be (laughing, lying down, walking, sailing).  Notice how peaceful you seem, your relaxed facial expression, how “in control” you feel.  Observe how calmly you respond to others.
  • Just as we can feel ourselves becoming tense when we relive pulling in that big fish, or riding that roller coaster, we can also experience calmness by reliving or creating a peaceful scene or event.

Step 4: Autogenics

Use phrases to describe the sensations you’d like to create. Phrases such as “calm down”, “just relax”, or “it’ll be okay”, we use all the time to help others.  It can also work on you. Be specific yet calm when directing your body to relax. Shouting through clenched teeth rarely works.

  • These specific phrases may be helpful: My breathing is calm and regular. My arms and legs feel heavier. My thoughts are slowing down. I feel relaxed and in control.
  • Your body will learn to respond to those “key phrases” that you practice using. Saying “calm down” has helped many a frustrated student or teacher gain control before reacting. This is a way to expend that message system to effect specific areas of one’s body.