face. If your reaction to stress is mostly physical, try relaxing your
physical body by exercising, deep muscle relaxation, stretching, taking
a bath, getting a massage, etc. If your reaction is mostly mental, try
relaxation fantasies, meditation, cognitive tasks, reading, TV, calming
self-instructions, pleasant fantasies, etc. Haney and Boenisch (1987)
will help you find relief.
There is accumulating evidence that the effects of relaxation, no
matter how achieved, last for a couple of hours beyond the 15 to 20
minute relaxation training period. This is true for exercise too. The
exact mechanism for this is not clear, however. The relaxation may
linger on or the stressed person may learn to briefly re-relax
themselves throughout the day. The latter view is suggested by
Stoyva and Anderson (1982) who contend that chronically anxious-
psychosomatic-insomniac patients have lost their ability to rest.
Biofeedback confirms this theory somewhat since anxious people
maintain physiological tension and psychological uptightness much
longer than other people. Thus, the best approach may be to teach
ourselves how to relax every few hours during stressful days.
We may even be able eventually to develop a more relaxed
personality. Try to stay calm. Attend closely to what others say and
do. Don't interrupt. Talk less and speak softly, slowly, and in a gentle
manner. Don't get angry; just try to understand the other person's
viewpoint. Say enough to show you are empathic. Breathe slowly and
smile a lot. But don't be phony.
Relaxation methods have helped with many kinds of stresses--
general anxiety, Type A personality, and psychosomatic disorders.
Many of the professional treatment programs emphasize frequent
relaxation of the muscles and reducing mental strain, such as self-
criticism, worry, and the excessive demands that we make of
ourselves ("do the laundry, fix the car, prepare a speech..."). Indeed,
one study indicated that relaxation does not occur because we relax
our muscles but rather because we relax our brain and stop sending
out "try harder messages" to our body (Stilson, Matus, & Ball, 1980).
How to relax by changing our thoughts is described in chapter 14.
Some of us apparently need to relax muscles, others need to stop
certain thoughts, others need to exercise, others need to sleep more
or better, others need to cuddle and have a massage, and others need
to read or listen to music, i.e. "different strokes for different folks." If
you don't know what you need to relax, try different approaches (see
chapters 12 and 14). Don't use smoking, drinking, bingeing, and
coffee as a way to relax.
Some self-help approaches may, at first, seem unlikely to work.
For instance, say, you want to reduce your tension and anxiety, to
escape the pressures you are feeling. What probably seem to you most
likely to be effective are techniques that would help you calm down
and relax. And those methods are certainly reasonable choices, but
research has shown that having positive experiences and feelings
decrease our negative emotions, including stress, anxiety, depression,