Four Relaxation Techniques to Fight Anxiety

Four Relaxation Techniques to Fight Anxiety

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Four Relaxation Techniques to Fight Anxietyby Dr. Tali Shenfield, Clinical Psychologist

Most of us suffer from anxiety at one time or another, it’s just part of life and of being human.

Unfortunately, anxiety will become chronic for around one in six of us and can progress from a temporary affliction to a disorder. Anxiety will increase and increase until it dominates our days and prevents our sleep. And women are twice as likely to suffer from such a level of anxiety as men.

Even so, whether we suffer from the normal come and go anxiety or the chronic never go away disorder, we must still deal with it. While prescribing drugs for anxiety has become common practice nowadays, the problem is that medication loses its effectiveness in the long term, plus many anti-depressants have serious side effects.

Depending on how serious your anxiety symptoms are, you may want to seek professional help from a clinical psychologist or psychotherapist. The most common psychological therapy that is used to deal with anxiety is Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). It is often called “talk therapy” because it takes the form of dialog between the patient and a psychologist or psychotherapist who helps the patient become aware of and deal with unwanted or destructively habitual thought patterns. While it certainly helps handling anxiety, cognitive behavior therapy is more concerned with treating mild depression, which could easily be caused by chronic anxiety.

In this article I would like to focus on relaxation techniques that could be used in addition to psychotherapy. There are many different types of relaxation techniques and these four in particular have been demonstrated effective by many academic studies. These are:


1. Autogenic Training


This is the granddaddy of modern relaxation techniques and goes back to the 1930s. Like most techniques, it involves progressively relaxing the muscles through mental intention. It is unique in that it also contains the use of words that are spoken aloud in the form of a repetitive mantras such as “My arm feels very heavy,” etc. Once the heavy feeling is induced, the next step is to introduce a sensation of warmth with a mantra such as “My arm feels very warm.” This is followed by cooling the brow, and calming the heart and relaxing the abdomen in the same way.


2. Progressive Relaxation


This is a very common type of relaxation therapy where the individual goes from muscle group to muscle group in his or her body and relaxing each in turn by an act of will. Unlike in autogenic training, this is done silently. This particular relaxation technique has the benefit of helping people become aware of when their muscles begin to tense and so enables them to deal with anxiety in its early stages.


3. Applied Relaxation


Applied relaxation is a very detailed relaxation technique which starts with progressively relaxing the muscle groups and then moves on to relaxing each muscle individually. It then creates a built in cue such as thinking the words “relax now” which enables quick relaxation. Practicing the techniques that you have learned in real world anxious situations follows this. As with most of these techniques, it’s about training the mind to relax by relaxing the body first.


4. Meditation


If autogenic training is the granddaddy of relaxation techniques, then meditation is the great-granddaddy. It goes back thousands of years. While the other techniques are about training the body, or in modern terms programming a stimulus response, meditation pretty much ignores setting up stimulus response patterns and instead concentrates on training the mind to focus and un-focus at will. While the other methods use intention, meditation actually trains in intention. This is why it is one of the more difficult techniques to master, it may take years, and it is also why it is one of the most successful.


Author Bio: Dr. Tali Shenfield is a Child Psychologist and a Clinical Director of Richmond Hill Psychology Center. She practices yoga and meditation for over 10 years and actively uses meditation techniques in her clinical work.


  1. For many years I have used relaxation techniques when I have trouble falling asleep. I don’t say it out loud, but I go through muscle group, starting with my toes, and tense for ten seconds then relax. It works very well (and feels wonderful).

    These days, we tend to go on too little sleep and I think our bodies have difficulty learning how to wind down after a busy day. Turning to pills isn’t necessarily the right answer. If your body (and mind) is accustomed to being on overdrive, I think it’s just a matter of retraining yourself to relax, rest and sleep.

    • Crystal,
      I completely agree with you, meditation works wonders. I started doing meditation 12 years ago when started working in private practice. After seeing patents for 6-7 hours, I just couldn’t stop my brain from processing information and I just couldn’t fall asleep without pills. Meditation changed that, nowadays I don’t even approach my family before doing 30 min meditation after I come from work.

  2. It’s funny that our lives have become so fast-paced and complicated that relaxing is now a skill we need to learn. I think that in addition to these exercises, we also need to take a lesson from bedtime routines of children. Shut off the television and computers an hour before bed, which for grown ups means no tv or tablets in the bedroom. Take a warm bath, have some milk (or anything without sugar and caffeine), and cuddle up with a good book for your bedtime story. Relaxation techniques are valuable in dealing with anxiety. Coupled with a good night’s sleep, you should be able to have many more good days and much fewer bad ones.

  3. I had no idea that chronic anxiety impacted as many as 1 in 6 people, but it doesn’t surprise me that women are more vulnerable. Women are somehow led to believe that they must be mother/spouse/daughter/employee/breadwinner and perform all these roles exceptionally well. It’s interesting since women tend to be quite critical of other women. I’ve never been to an event, be it a friendly dinner or a wedding, where at some point the female guests didn’t start critiquing. They pick on the way the meal was cooked, choice of colour scheme or behaviour of children, it doesn’t seem to matter, someone will find a complaint or put down. This only adds to the pressure women put themselves under, trying to meet impossible expectations. Women most definitely need to learn how to relax. Not just physically, but emotionally and mentally as well.

  4. Meditation is an excellent form of relaxation for any age. Not only does it leave you feeling refreshed, it also improves your disposition, reduces stress and helps you think more clearly.

    It takes some practice, but the benefits are well worth it. Meditation allows a person to clear away stress and debris from their mind, which would otherwise be harmful. It also allows for self discovery, and it’s surprising how many people diversify themselves with the help of mediation.

    Meditation is commonly thought of as a tradition from oriental cultures, but here in North America, native peoples often practiced meditation to prepare themselves for hunting, childbirth or other high stress activities. Even before it had a name, meditation was in use around the world.

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