60-Second Relaxation Response

staring out window holding coffee cupWe see a number of people in our practice who struggle with feelings of anxiety. Working with mental and emotional responses to stress is helpful for these people. We also take time to learn about where the person feels his or her anxiety in the body.

Some common physical manifestations of anxiety include:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Tense muscles
  • Stomach “in knots”
  • Shallow breathing
  • Clenched jaw

When under stress, our bodies may enter what we call “fight or flight” response. In other words, our nerve cells begin firing, stress hormones are triggered, and our primitive response patterns prepare us to either run away from perceived danger or steel ourselves for battle.

But what if the perceived “danger” is nothing more than an old memory, a traffic jam, or even a wave of panic from out of the blue? Anxiety and its physical signs can come upon us even in seemingly benign situations. How can you manage these disruptive feelings quickly and discreetly?

First, it’s important to mention that chronic feelings of overwhelm and anxiety can be greatly helped in therapy. Talking through concerns that bother you can address issues for a long-term fix. But in the meantime, if you find yourself feeling stressed out and want to turn down the volume on your anxiety for the moment, here are some exercises to try that should take no more than a minute:

  1. Breathe – If I could give you just one tip, it would be to stop for a moment and notice how you are breathing. When stress strikes, breathing can become shallow and rapid, or we may almost forget to breathe. Either way, it makes us feel worse and even more anxious. First, pay attention to your breathing. Second, adjust your inhalation and exhalation to more regular, slower, and deeper levels. There is no need to take extra-deep breaths, and doing so can even make you a little dizzy. Strive for easy, regular breaths that fill your lungs and release effortlessly.
  2. Tighten your muscles – No, that’s not a typo. Tighten your muscles, one area of your body at a time, and then release. Ball your hands into tight fists, then let the tension go as your fingers, hands, wrists, and arms relax. Clench your jaw, then let the muscles relax and your jaw drop. Shrug your shoulders all the way up to your ears, then feel the tightness melt away as you let them drop down. You can do this even if you are in your car, at a meeting, at work, or anywhere else. Tightening the muscles and then letting go into relaxation releases tension and feels good. Add some stretching if you can for even better results.
  3. Count – Count to 3, or 5, or 10—whatever works for you. As you mentally count, breathe regularly, allow your thoughts to come and go, and keep your body relaxed. Repeat as needed. This is a trick you can use as many times a day as you need to keep yourself grounded and focused on relaxation.

There are your three steps to a 60 Second Relaxation Response. The more you repeat the sequence, the easier it will become, and the more readily your body will respond.

© Copyright 2011 by Tammy Fletcher, M.A., therapist in San Diego, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • LJ


    May 10th, 2011 at 4:28 AM

    Sometimes the rage in me is not too violent but at other times it can really be scary because it’s almost as if a volcano’s goin to erupt!

    I wonder why there is difference in rage of the same person at different times?

  • Kayla


    May 10th, 2011 at 4:31 AM

    Breathing exercises and doing them correctly can make a whole lot of difference in your life and how you are able to handle stress.

  • wesley


    May 10th, 2011 at 7:27 PM

    used to have trouble with stress but the breathing technique suggested by a friend years ago helped me and now I instinctively start the breathing technique as soon as I feel stressed or am in a hostile situation.

  • Cheryl


    May 11th, 2011 at 4:41 AM

    Sometimes you do have to take a little time out from what is going on around you, even if it is just for a minute or two. If you don’t then sometimes the stress will completely consume you and will begin to affect every aspect of your day. There is no one who can be productive when that is the sort of state that they are existing in.

  • Jones


    May 11th, 2011 at 4:08 PM

    These are great alternative tips for dealing with stress, other than the usual response of “turn to yoga” or “go on a jog”.

  • Autumn


    May 14th, 2011 at 4:02 PM

    When my job starts getting stressful I relieve it by clenching my wrist and muttering to myself when no-one’s within earshot. Of course I’m underpaid, overqualified and overburdened with mundane tasks that aren’t in my job description. It’s a wonder I’ve not broken a finger with all that clenching LOL.

  • Paige


    May 14th, 2011 at 10:53 PM

    Every time I try to calm down, a coworker always always always starts getting me frustrated to where I want to send them flying out of my office. Staff need to learn my job is hard and I need space to do it, not idle chitchat. Thanks for the tips, Tammy.

  • Lizzie


    May 15th, 2011 at 4:49 PM

    @Paige: I have a solution for too many interruptions you may wish to try. I start talking on my cellphone (to myself) about something important-sounding. I wave off whoever walks in, and whisper “Sorry, this is private business.” So far it’s worked. That relaxes me for sure! Counting to ten also helps.

  • H


    November 7th, 2015 at 8:18 AM

    I slowly remove from my life the things that bring malignant anxiety to me. I still get anxiety don’t get me wrong, however, reclaiming myself helped me a lot. When I start to feel the benign anxiety, I quiet myself and start breathing exercises. If I get the palpitations, heart rate rise, sweating, shakiness, I do take a Valium. Thankfully those are refilled every 4 to 5 months. Prayer helps me too.

  • Rebekah B.

    Rebekah B.

    November 7th, 2015 at 11:51 AM

    I use this method with my hospice patients, loved ones, and even hospice interdisciplinary staff- it works wonders for all groups. It’s a fabulous tool that can always be there for relief, redirection, and clarity in many situations.

  • Nancy H.

    Nancy H.

    November 6th, 2017 at 6:20 AM

    Food advice👍✌

  • Nancy H.

    Nancy H.

    November 6th, 2017 at 6:23 AM

    Ny theapis uses these…and they work👍✌

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