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Stress Management > 6. Cue controlled relaxation


Have you ever noticed that a sound, a word, a picture, a memory, a smell can elicit a specific response in your body and mind? Think how your body reacts when you hear the screech of tires from a car nearby. When you smell food cooking, do you suddenly feel hungry when you didn't notice it before? This type of learning is called classical conditioning by psychologists. If you associate one experience with another in time, one experience will begin to elicit the same response as the other. We can use this to gain more swift and convenient control over relaxation. Choose a cue word which you will use to remind your body to relax. This word can be any word which is either neutral in its emotional value for you or has already associated with it some relaxing image or emotional value. The words can be from your religious tradition such as Lord, grace, Om, Yahwe. It can be a word which already is associated with the relaxation response such as peace, calm, relax, or breathe. It can be a phrase such as "I am calm", "Lord be with me". This cue can also be visual such as a symbol or a picture.

After you have used a relaxation exercise and become relaxed, say repeatedly this word or phrase or view or imagine the visual cue you chose. Gradually over time the cue word or image will begin to elicit the relaxation response by itself. Then you can use this cue during the course of your day to take mini-stress-breaks. It may be helpful to practice using your cue while taking some deep breaths as taught in one of the other stress management techniques. The deep breaths will enhance the relaxation response and also continue to build the association with the cue word and relaxation.

Author: David W. Kidder, Ph.D.

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