Stress and tension are prevalent complaints amongst children and young people. Body sensations are often reported over and above cognitions & worries. Feelings of stress and tension accompany a wide range of clinical and non-clinical problems including anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Teaching relaxation exercises can engender a beneficial sense of control and while not everybody enjoys the same relaxation techniques most people find some techniques pleasant.
Relaxation exercises can be broadly divided into three categories including: diaphragmatic breathing, muscle relaxation, and cognitive / visualisation techniques. The relaxation exercises in this Learning To Relax information handout include instructions for all three approaches. Relaxation techniques are best introduced as practical exercises within session and this exercise handout supports clinicians teaching younger clients. Clinicians might consider encouraging clients to record the exercises to guide their later practice. For the breathing exercises is is important that relaxed breathing be slower, lower down (in the tummy) rather than higher (in the chest). For the progressive muscle relaxation exercise it is helpful to advice clients not to tighten muscles too hard, and to leave out any areas which cause discomfort. For the visualisation exercise the clinician might consider suggesting imagining actives that are soothing or activating / exciting – what is more important is to help the client to have an experience that is absorbing and engaging.
“We all get stressed and anxious, and sometimes feeling worried, angry, or sad can make us feel tense or bothered. Do you ever notice feeling tense or tight in your body? And do you already have any good ways of relaxing? One really good way of managing when we feel stressed is to try a relaxation exercise. These are quick skills that you can practice to feel calmer and more in control. This exercise will teach you three great ways of relaxing: one is to make your breathing slower and deeper, another is by relaxing all fo the muscles in your body, and the last one is by using the power of your imagination. Would you be willing to try some with me? There’s no right or wrong, and I’ll be interested to hear about whatever you experience.”
- Bernstein, D. A., & Borkovec, T. D. (1973). Progressive relaxation training: A manual for the helping professions. Champaign, Ill. : Research Press.