Student Services>Disability Service>Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation Techniques



Simple breathing technique
This is a simple technique that can be done anywhere!

  1. Gradually breathe in to the count of 4.
  2. Breathe out to the count of 5.
  3. Repeat at least 5 times. Keep going for as long as necessary.
  4. It helps to close your eyes but it is not essential.



One common use of relaxation imagery is to imagine a scene, place or event that you remember as safe, peaceful, restful, beautiful and happy. You can bring all your senses into the image with, for example, sounds of running water and birds, the smell of cut grass, the taste of cool white wine, the warmth of the sun, and so on. Use the imagined place as a retreat from stress /pressure.

Scenes can involve complex images such as lying on a beach in a deserted cove. You may "see" cliffs, sea and sand around you, "hear" the waves crashing against rocks, "smell" the salt in the air, and "feel" the warmth of the sun and a gentle breeze on your body. Other images might include looking at a mountain view, swimming in a tropical pool, or whatever you want. You will be able to come up with the most effective images for yourself. 

Other uses of imagery in relaxation involve creating mental pictures of stress flowing out of your body, or of stress, distractions and everyday concerns being folded away and locked into a padlocked chest.

You can also use imagery in rehearsal before a big event, allowing you to prepare for the event in your mind.

Aside from allowing you to rehearse mentally, imagery also allows you to practice in advance for anything unusual that might occur, so that you are prepared and already practiced in handling it. This is a technique used very commonly by top sports people, who learn good performance habits by repeatedly rehearsing performances in their imagination. When the unusual eventualities they have rehearsed using imagery occur, they have good, pre-prepared, habitual responses to them.

Imagery also allows you to pre-experience achievement of your goals, helping to give you self-confidence. This is another technique used by successful athletes.

Progressive Muscular Relaxation

The idea behind PMR is that you tense up a group of muscles so that they are as tightly contracted as possible. Hold them in a state of extreme tension for a few seconds. Then, relax the muscles to their previous state. Finally, consciously relax the muscles even further so that you are as relaxed as possible. 

By tensing your muscles first, you will probably find that you are able to relax your muscles more than would be the case if you tried to relax your muscles directly.

Experiment with PMR by forming a fist, and clenching your hand as tight as you can for a few seconds. Then relax your hand to its previous tension, and then consciously relax it again so that it is as loose as possible. You should feel deep relaxation in your hand muscles.

For complete body PMR, sit / lie down in a comfortable position and take 5 deep breaths. Start by tensing the muscles in your feet by curling your toes and hold for 5 seconds. Release to the count of 5. Draw feet up towards your ankles, hold and release as above. Tense your leg muscles (you can do calves and thighs separately if you want), hold for and release to as above.  Tense your buttocks, hold and release as above. Move on to stomach muscles. Move on to hands (clench fist to obtain tension); arms; shoulders (slide shoulders upwards to obtain tension as if you are shrugging your shoulders); neck (raise chin to obtain tension) and face (screw up eyes and face to obtain tension), continue to tense and release to count of 5.

Remember to continue deep breathing throughout this exercise and close eyes.

For maximum relaxation you can use PMR in conjunction with breathing techniques plus imagery.


Focussing on an object

Here, you completely focus attention on examination of an object. Look at it in immense detail. Examine the shape, colour differences, texture, temperature and movement of the object. Objects often used are flowers, candle flames or flowing designs, but you can use other objects equally effectively (for example alarm clocks, desk lamps or even coffee mugs!)


You can try describing the object in detail to yourself (e.g. I am looking at a poster, it is printed on yellow paper. There are large letters in black and smaller letters below in blue. It is advertising Student Services and there is a telephone number and e-mail address to contact).

Name 5 things that you can see, 4 things that you can hear, 3 things that you can smell, 2 things that you can touch and one thing you like about yourself.

Concentrate on each sensory experience (e.g. colour blue reminds me of the sea / summer sky and let your mind take you there; touching a cushion and it feels soft and comfortable – enjoy the feeling this gives you).

Other techniques 

  • Attempt to recall the words to your favourite songs or poems, recall a happy childhood memory, plan the day's activities.
  • Imagine cooking a meal, taking a journey you know well, having a conversation with somebody you are close to / haven't seen for a while.
  • Go through the alphabet backwards.
  • Do a puzzle, play solitaire, watch TV, read a magazine for a while.
  • Sing along to a favourite song; dance or jump about.
  • Pop bubble wrap.
  • Doodle / create a cartoon character.

Do anything that is pleasurable / will distract you for a while ​