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Excerpted from The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook by Martha Davis, Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, and Matthew McKay. Copyright © 2000 by Martha Davis, Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, and Matthew McKay. Excerpted by permission of New Harbinger Publications, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"Applied relaxation is a skill, and as with other skills you will refine your ability with practice."

  Martha Davis, Elizabeth R. Eshelman, and Matthew McKay, The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook, Part 5

5. Applied Relaxation

The final stage of applied relaxation training involves relaxing quickly in the face of anxiety-provoking situations. You will use the same techniques that you practiced in rapid relaxation, beginning your deep breathing the moment you notice a stress reaction setting in.

If youíre unsure of your bodyís particular stress warning signs -- such as rapid breathing, sweating, or an increased heart rate -- turn to the exercises for body awareness in chapter 2. The earlier you can identify the physiological signs that accompany stress, the more effectively you can cut in on a stress reaction before it builds.

As soon as you note a sign of stress -- if you catch your breath, feel your heart leap, or feel a flush of heat -- begin your three steps:

1. Take two to three deep, even breaths.

2. Think these calming words to yourself as you continue to breathe deeply:

Breathe in . . . relax . . .
Breathe in . . . relax . . .
Breathe in . . . relax . . .

If you prefer, you need only hear yourself think "relax" each time you exhale.

3. Scan your body for tension and concentrate on relaxing the muscles that you donít need to continue your activity.

To begin coming close to the feeling of your stress reaction, start by practicing these instructions after you have run up a flight of stairs or completed some jumping jacks. When you feel confident, visualize a stressful situation such as a fight with your spouse or an unpleasant encounter with your boss. (Chapter 6 offers ideas and exercises to help you build your visualization skills.) Finally, practice using these three steps when you encounter a stressful situation in real life. Take a brief moment to collect yourself and remember the three steps and then put them into effect immediately. No one but you needs to know what youíre doing, and you and those around you will all benefit from the calmness with which you approach the crisis at hand.

Be patient with yourself. Applied relaxation is a skill, and as with other skills you will refine your ability with practice. Chances are you wonít feel complete relief the first time you try to cut through a deeply stressful situation with applied relaxation. Notice the improvements that you do make. Most people are able to stop anxiety from increasing with relatively little practice. From that point, itís just a few short steps to actually decreasing the anxiety and replacing panic with a feeling of calm and control.

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