Relaxation (psychology)

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AnxietyArousalFlow (psychology)WorryControl (psychology)ApathyBoredomRelaxation (psychology)
Mental state in terms of challenge level and skill level, according to Csikszentmihalyi's flow model.[1](Click on a fragment of the image to go to the appropriate article)

Relaxation in psychology is the emotional state of a living being, of low tension, in which there is an absence of arousal, particularly from negative sources such as anger, anxiety, or fear. According to Oxford Dictionaries[2] relaxation is when the body and mind are free from tension and anxiety. Relaxation is a form of mild ecstasy coming from the frontal lobe of the brain in which the backward cortex sends signals to the frontal cortex via a mild sedative.[citation needed] Relaxation can be achieved through meditation, autogenics, and progressive muscle relaxation. Relaxation helps improve coping with stress. Stress is the leading cause of mental problems and physical problems,[3] therefore feeling relaxed is beneficial for a person's health. When we are stressed, the sympathetic nervous system is activated because we are in a fight-or-flight response mode; over time, this could have negative effects on a human body.


The idea of relaxation in psychology was popularized by Dr. Edmund Jacobson in his published book Progressive Relaxation (1929). It was a technical book intended for doctors and scientists. His book describes tensing and relaxing specific muscles at a time to achieve overall relaxation in the body.[4] Jacobson then published another book called You Must Relax published in 1934 that was geared towards the general public. According to Jacobson, his research started in 1908 at Harvard University, and later moving on to Cornell and University of Chicago. His research was aimed at improving the general human well-being.[citation needed]

In 1932, Johannes Schultz and Wolfgang Luthe developed a method of relaxation that emphasized using the power of suggestion, called autogenic training.[citation needed]

In 1975, Herbert Benson and Mirium Z. Klipper published a book called The Relaxation Response, which gives instructions on tying meditation techniques into daily activities the average person could do.[5]


A man relaxing with a book

Although stress levels vary across society, the fact remains that stress can be detrimental to one's health. In order to combat this stress, there have been a variety of methods developed that have been proven to reduce stress and its consequences in everyday life. The majority of techniques can be classified into either physical, mental or therapeutic techniques.


Breathing techniques are one of the easiest ways to reduce stress. They require little effort and can be done anywhere at any time. Proper breathing techniques that incorporate deep abdominal breathing have been shown to reduce the physical symptoms of depression, anxiety and hypertension as well as everyday emotional symptoms of anger and nervousness.[6]

Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique wherein people focus on flexing and holding a certain set of muscles and then slowly relaxing them. Gradually, from top to bottom, one might feel a deep sense of relaxation. Progressive muscle relaxation is a somewhat adapted version of the Jacobsonian Relaxation Technique developed in the 1920s.[7] Progressive muscle relaxation is currently used in clinical and non-clinical settings to reduce the effects of anxiety and sleeplessness brought upon by stress.[7]


Meditation has long been practiced around the world. relatively recently in North America. Studies suggest that in addition to reducing physiological and psychological stresses placed on a body, people who practice meditation have fewer doctor visits for physical or psychological illnesses.[8]

Hypnosis relaxation therapy has recently become another technique used among healthcare professionals to promote relaxation. When performed correctly, it puts a person into a state of deep relaxation and high vulnerabilty to suggestions made by the hypnotist. In addition to relaxation, hypnosis therapy is used to treat a variety of conditions. Hypnosis is promoted by the Mayo Clinic for conditions such as smoking addiction, pain, obesity, chemotherapy reaction, asthma, and allergies.[9]


Relaxation techniques used in therapy by a certified counselor or therapist could include any of the previous techniques discussed. Professionals in the fields of psychology or counseling can administer a variety of these techniques. If they feel it is appropriate they may prescribe medication to assist the patient with relaxation. Although a number of these techniques are simple and can be performed on one's own time, patients may receive better results if they are guided by a professional who is very familiar with the techniques.[citation needed]


Herbert Benson, a professor at the medical school at Harvard University, has proposed in his book The Relaxation Response a mechanism of the body that counters the fight-or-flight response. The relaxation response reduces the body's metabolism, heart and breathing rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and calms brain activity. It increases the immune response, helps attention and decision making, and changes gene activities that are the opposite of those associated stress.[citation needed] The relaxation response is achieved through meditation. Benson's meditation technique involves these four steps:

  1. A quiet environment to help focus
  2. A mental device to help keep attention constant (a sound or word said repeatedly)
  3. A positive attitude to avoid getting upset over failed attempts
  4. A comfortable position


Autogenics was invented by Dr. Johannes Heinrich Schultz in the 1920s. The process of autogenics is by relaxing muscles deeply, and by doing so, the mind follows through and relaxes as well. There as six parts to autogenics training:[citation needed]

  1. Heaviness in parts of the body (arms and legs feel heavy)
  2. Warmth in parts of the body (arms and legs feel warm)
  3. Heartbeat (heart is calm)
  4. Breathing (breathing is calm)
  5. Warmth in the abdominal area
  6. Forehead is cool


A Maltese dog relaxing

The benefits of relaxation can be found in three main areas of health; mental, physical and physiological. It can elevate mood[10] or induce sleep.[11] All of these things can help prolong and enhance life.[11]


Mental health is very important and needs to be worked on every day. Relaxation can help with many impairments that can occur in one's mental health. There is a higher mood and lower anxiety in those who practice relaxation techniques.[4] Those who are relaxed have much slower and clearer thought processes than those who are not relaxed; this can be shown on an EEG.[12] It is well known that relaxation can help reduce stress. With reducing stress, a person can help reduce the negative things that stress can do to the body.[12] Coping mechanisms are also improved with relaxation techniques in both mental and physical pain.[10]

Sleep disorders are an area that can produce stress and mental health issues. Relaxation may help reduce insomnia in those who have sleeping disorders. Those with insomnia may even give up sleeping aids just by practicing relaxation techniques.[11] Avoiding unnecessary medication or sleep aids may help health. Even though relaxation cannot get rid of chronic diseases, it may help dull of the symptoms one may have. Many cancer and AIDS patients are taught relaxation techniques.[not specific enough to verify]


Physical health is also something that needs to be worked on daily, whether it is exercise, healthy eating, or relaxation.[11] states that blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration rate will all decrease when one is relaxed.[citation needed] This means that a person's heart does not beat as fast and their breathing is shallow, helping one's body have time to rest. This will reduce the extra stress that these things can do to the body if they are over worked. Muscle tension will decrease.[11] If one's muscle tension is decreased they are not burning up extra energy that they may need later in the day. Metabolism can also decrease; this is mostly seen in hibernation and sleep and that gives the body extra time to rest and focus on other aspect that it needs to.[11] This could be seen as a good or bad thing, depending on the overall quality of health. People who practice relaxation have said to be able to tolerate pain better both mentally and physically.[10]


In regards to the nervous system, relaxation can also play a big role. A person will go from active and alert, which is the sympathetic, to parasympathetic which is rest and digest.[12] When they are relaxing, it gives the body time to catch up. A person does not need to worry about running, because they are sitting still and allowing "rest and digest". Immune systems will increase with increased relaxation[6] which is why relaxation can be seen as part of treatment for AIDS and cancer patients.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Csikszentmihalyi M (1997). Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life (1st ed.). New York: Basic Books. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-465-02411-7.
  2. ^ Oxford Dictionaries (2014). Relaxation,
  3. ^ Physical health and mental health,
  4. ^ a b Pagnini, Francesco; Manzoni, Gian Mauro; Castelnuovo, Gianluca; Molinari, Enrico (May 2013). "A brief literature review about relaxation therapy and anxiety". Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy. 8 (2): 71–81. doi:10.1080/17432979.2012.750248.
  5. ^ Lettus, Dodi (September 2010). "Breathe and Relax". Library Journal. 135 (14): 30–32. ERIC EJ926001.
  6. ^ a b MacGregor, Hilary E. (17 October 2004). "Take a breath to relieve stress Specialized breathing techniques beneficial to health, practitioners say". Journal-Gazette. Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 411159521.
  7. ^ a b Greenwald, Dawn (24 May 2012). "Innovative Health: De-stress with progressive muscle relaxation technique". Alamogordo Daily News. ProQuest 1015669126.
  8. ^ "Take a mental break (meditation can help ease stress)". Benefits Canada. 20 (3): 7. March 1996. ProQuest 224308859.
  9. ^ Carrero, Milton D. (13 November 2012). "Is hypnosis for you? Therapeutic hypnosis has been shown to help patients reduce stress, quit smoking, lose weight and more". Morning Call. ProQuest 1151633865.
  10. ^ a b c Wachholtz, Amy B.; Pargament, Kenneth I. (28 July 2005). "Is Spirituality a Critical Ingredient of Meditation? Comparing the Effects of Spiritual Meditation, Secular Meditation, and Relaxation on Spiritual, Psychological, Cardiac, and Pain Outcomes". Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 28 (4): 369–384. doi:10.1007/s10865-005-9008-5. PMID 16049627.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Goleman, Daniel; Gurin, Joel (1995). "The Relaxation Response". Mind Body Medicine: How to Use Your Mind for Better Health. Consumer Reports Books. pp. 233–252. ISBN 978-0-89043-840-4.
  12. ^ a b c Jones, Kenneth R.; Heymen, Steve (1988). "Using Relaxation: Coping with Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders" (PDF). UNC Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2019-03-03.

Different Relaxation techniques

Further reading[edit]