Stress Management Techniques

relaxation techniquesPeople with symptoms of depression often also experience tension, nervousness, and anxiety. These symptoms can interfere with their ability to make decisions, become involved, enjoy activities, or sleep restfully.

Tension actually can magnify stomach problems, breathing difficulties, headaches, and other aches and pains. Physical symptoms, like those caused by tension, impact the cycle of depression and can make it worse.

Human beings have a natural ability to protect themselves from stress, called the "relaxation response." There are several ways of "turning on" this protective mechanism.

In this section we describe several methods that help relaxation, including breathing techniques, autogenic techniques, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery. You may use any one, or a combination, to promote relaxation.

The relaxation techniques described in this section were popularized by Dr. Herbert Benson and others and have been used for over two decades. These types of relaxation are probably different than how you usually think about relaxing, such as watching TV, napping, or taking a walk. In this case, relaxation means turning off the outside world so the mind and body are at rest.

Doing relaxation exercises can reduce the tension that causes anxiety or worsens depression symptoms. In order to relax in this way you may need to learn new skills. Just like learning to drive or use a computer, developing these skills takes regular practice, patience, and time before they can be done properly and effectively.

Relaxation is not a cure-all, nor is it silly or useless. Rather, it is a tool that can help you feel calmer and reduce anxiety about facing difficult tasks or situations. Relaxation has a cumulative effect; the more you do it, the easier it gets, and the more it works. Start by doing 2-3 relaxation sessions per week and gradually work up to doing them daily.

Many people find when they practice one or two techniques over and over again they respond more quickly with each practice. You may find, however, that there are times when it is difficult to get relief from the stresses of the day. Please be patient. If you are having difficulty relaxing, just sit quietly or spend less time using the techniques.

Don’t avoid practicing; you can get something out of sitting quietly, even for as little as 5 minutes. The log at the end of this chapter will help you keep track of your relaxation schedule and sessions.