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Relaxation response

  • Relaxation is a state of being free from anxiety and distress. One method of relaxation is to use guided imagery. Guided imagery is the process of relaxed focused concentration to relieve pain. By focusing on memories, dreams, or fantasies you can refocus attention away from a stressful situation, which includes pain.

    What does relaxation response involve?

    These techniques share some basic elements: a quiet place to practice, a comfortable position, a temporary willingness to stop thinking about everyday concerns, and a repetitive sound, phrase, prayer or activity to help you focus. Relaxation response is easy to learn and requires no special equipment. Initially, you may need a video- or audiotape, written or in-person instructions to achieve a deliberate state of relaxation, but with practice, it is something you can do by yourself. Do not use deep breathing and guided imagery techniques if you have difficulty breathing.

    What has been proven?

    When practiced regularly the relaxation response can improve sleep, concentration and the ability to cope with stress. Relaxation can help with management of pain, nausea and anxiety. Relaxation itself may not decrease pain, but it can help relieve tense muscles and other factors that may increase pain. Some studies have shown that relaxation response lowers high blood pressure.

    Directions for getting started on your own

    1. Find a quiet room where you can get into a comfortable position to relax. Close your eyes.
    2. Do not fold your arms or cross your legs. You may cut off circulation and cause numbness and tingling.
    3. Breathe in deeply expanding your abdomen as you inhale. Exhale slowly as though you are whistling. Breathe deeply and exhale slowly three times. This will help you relax.
    4. Picture in your mind something that is peaceful to you or a place that you have enjoyed visiting. This pleasant image should symbolize how you picture pain or symptom relief. For example, you think of pain as a large boulder that is on a part of your body weighing you down and causing pain. Picture large helium-filled balloons attached to the boulder carrying it away from you, and releasing the pain.

      If you think of the pain as a thunderstorm with lightening and thunder, that rains on your body, imagine how the pain medicine is like a gentle breeze that blows the rain and thunderclouds away. Instead of rain and thunder, you have sunshine and warmth. The air smells clean and fresh, the rain has watered all the beautiful flowers and the grass is green and lush. There are swans and ducks on a pond. Only a ripple, caused by the ducks' gentle padding, disturbs the water's peaceful state.

    5. Use imagery at least 20 minutes a day. It is best to try imagery before your symptoms becomes severe, or while you are waiting for your pain medicine to work.
    6. Record the use of relaxation and imagery and how it works in a journal or Pain Management Log.

    Special points to remember

    • Imagery does not replace your pain medicine. It works with your pain medicine to help you get better pain relief.
    • You need to choose a technique that is comfortable for you. Practicing the technique for 10-20 minutes each day helps you to gain more lasting benefits, and makes it easier to evoke relaxation response at will.
  • Integrative Therapies