From the iCope book series by Anthony R. Ciminero, Ph.D.
After you have read the following material and have a general idea of the basic procedures, try to set aside about 20 minutes of quiet time at home when you can try it. As with any other skill you learn, do not set yourself up for failure by expecting too much of any method, especially when you are first using it. Relaxation skills take some time to master and you will get better with practice. This modified relaxation procedure is as follows:
1. Find a quiet place where you will not be interrupted.
2. Get into a comfortable position, sitting or lying down. It is ideal if you can have all of your body, especially your neck and head, fully supported such as in a recliner type chair or by lying down in bed or on the floor.
3. Try to loosen your muscles as best as you can. Briefly pay attention to the tension throughout your body, scanning from your head to your feet.
4. Make a mental note of your stress level rating it from 1 (very relaxed) to 10 (very stressed).
5. Take a very deep breath through your nose. Breathe in deeply enough to extend your stomach and hold it for a few seconds. Then breathe out slowly through your mouth. Repeat this a few more times.
6. Now close your eyes and try to keep all other thoughts out of your mind. Allow your breathing to get into a natural and comfortable pace. Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
7. In order to allow the deeper feelings of relaxation to occur, it helps to have something on which you can focus. Try both of the following methods at different times.
a. Every time you exhale simply say the word “calm” to yourself, and imagine tension flowing out of your body. Use the word “calm” to focus upon as you continue to breathe naturally.
b. The next method is particularly good for those who can visualize or see things clearly in their mind with their eyes closed. Instead of focusing on the word calm, imagine a very peaceful and calm scene. This can be an imaginary scene or a place you actually recall. These are some popular scenes. Try one of these, or one of your own.
Visualize a sunset scene at the beach. Picture the sun slowly setting into the ocean. Feel the warmth of the sun. Focus on the colors and the shape of the sun and clouds. Feel yourself relaxing more deeply as the sun sets.
Visualize yourself lying in a forest on a bed of soft pine needles looking up at the sky through the leaves of the trees. Notice the smell of the forest. Focus on a leaf that is falling to the ground in slow motion. Relax as the leaf approaches the ground.
Visualize a pleasant place from your past (a park, backyard, favorite fishing spot, etc.).
8. Continue breathing naturally and focusing on the word “calm” or picturing your scene. Do not be concerned if you get distracted. Try to bring yourself back to the procedure and practice your relaxation for about 15-20 minutes.
9. When you finish sit quietly for a few minutes and make a mental note of your stress level (rating it from 1 to 10). Notice any sensations you may have such as warmth, heaviness, or tingling. These are good signs of relaxation. If you reduced your stress level even slightly, take credit for a job well done. If your stress level remains high, remind yourself that this skill takes practice, and try it again the next day. Practicing once or twice a day is ideal for learning these skills.
10. Open your eyes but do not stand up suddenly. Remain calm in your body but alert in your mind. When you feel alert and ready to get up, do so but try to remember the calm relaxed feelings you experienced.
In your day-to-day situations when you feel stressed, or anticipate going into a stressful situation, simply focus on your breathing. Taking slow deep breaths for even a minute will often help reduce your stress level. Try to practice getting more relaxed by simply focusing on your breathing in various situations.