Exercises for Relaxation

Relaxation exercises are easy to learn and use, and can be remarkably effective in addressing stress, test anxiety, all kinds of phobias, and other similar concerns.

We are grateful to the Counseling Center of Hobart and William Smith Colleges (Geneva, NY) for providing this excellent quality relaxation program. With their permission, portions of this page, and related links, have been reproduced with some modifications.

If you are ready to relax right now, settle yourself comfortably, and listen to the Progressive Relaxation Exercise program (approx 9 min).

Following are steps for using the relaxation exercises, as suggested by the Counseling professionals at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

Steps for using the relaxation exercises

  1. Sit quietly and in a comfortable position, with your legs uncrossed and your arms resting at your sides. This is especially important when you are first learning the exercise.
  2. Adopt a calm, accepting attitude towards your practice. Don't worry about how well you're doing or about possible interruptions. Instead, know that with repetition your ability to relax will grow.
  3. When you are ready, close your eyes, begin listening to the recording, and follow the directions. As you complete the exercise, you can expect your mind to wander a bit—when this happens you can simply re-direct your focus back to the recording.
  4. Once you've finished, stretch, look around and remain still another minute or two.
  5. Try to practice this exercise at least once or twice a day. Expect your ability to relax to improve as you continue practicing, and expect to practice two or three weeks before you become genuinely proficient. Once you learn how to do the exercises, you may no longer require the recorded instructions, and you can tailor the exercise to your own liking.
  6. Avoid practicing within an hour before or after a meal (either hunger or feeling full may distract you). Also avoid practicing immediately after engaging in vigorous exercise.
  7. As you become skilled with the exercises, try applying them to specific situations that might otherwise be anxiety provoking, such as tests, oral presentations, difficult social situations, job interviews, insomnia, and so forth. If you need help learning or applying the exercises, consider meeting with a counselor.

The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook (5th edition), by Martha Davis, Elizabeth R. Eshelman, and Matthew McKay. 2000. New Harbinger Publications.