by 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 a 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 a 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 to handle 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 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.
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.