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Stress Management > 1. The relaxation response

Originated by Herbert Benson, M.D.

Herbert Benson has suggested several components and steps which when followed will very likely lead you to a state of deep relaxation (Benson & Stuart, 1992). There are two basic components to the procedure:

1. In some way you must mentally focus on some repetitive behavior or thought in order to distract your mind from distressing thoughts.

2. You must also take a passive attitude toward distracting, intrusive thoughts. That is, when distracting thoughts come into your mind, do not get upset with yourself or follow those thoughts, but simply re-direct your mind back to the focus of your relaxation practice. You may have to do this again and again. This is all just part of the process:

Here are Benson's steps to elicit the relaxation response with slight modifications by me to further clarify the procedure and enhance the effect.

1. Choose a focus word, phrase, affirmation, or prayer. This can be related to your own religious belief system or it can simply be a word such as ''peace'', ''calm'', ''relax'', ''one'', ''love''. You may also simply focus on your breathing.

2. Find a place where you will not likely be disturbed and sit quietly in a comfortable position.

3. Close your eyes.

4. Let your body go completely limp if your chair or position allow. If you are sitting in a upright position without support, then allow as many of your muscles to relax as possible.

5. Breathe slowly and naturally, repeating your focus word or phrase as you exhale.

6. Assume a passive attitude toward your thoughts and body. If distracting thoughts come to your mind, simply recognize this as soon as possible and return to your focus. Do not worry that you have lost your focus temporarily. Also do not worry about how well you are doing this activity. Remember, worry is one of those symptoms of distress.

7. Practice this activity for 10 to 20 minutes. You may find that you are able to relax more quickly some days than others. You may find that distracting thoughts come more frequently some days than others. This is to be expected. That is why some days you may need 20 minutes while others you may need much less in order to achieve deep relaxation.

8. Practice this technique once or twice per day.

For further information about the Relaxation Response refer to Dr. Benson's books: '' The Relaxation Response'' and ''The Wellness Book: The comprehensive guide to maintaining health and treating stress-related illness.'' See the page entitled ''Resources on Stress Management'' for references.

It is important to realize that although you may receive benefits from your first use of a skill, it may take days or weeks to learn the skill and receive full benefit from it. How much benefit will be derived from a skill will likely be in direct proportion to how often and consistently you practice. Habits are hard to change. It will likely take three to six months before you develop a habit of practicing a skill, and it becomes a part of your routine. Before that happens you will need to devise reminders to practice. Write yourself notes and put them in your pocket, on your calendar, on your refrigerator, in your computer, on your desk, on your computer monitor, in your car, anywhere you look often.

Author: David W. Kidder, Ph.D.

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