Counselling Service - Self- Help Strategies For Managing Depression Or Anxiety

Counselling and Personal Development Service

Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation is a useful practise especially when you feel under stress.  It can lead to a reduction in anxiety and tension it combats tiredness, increases mental and physical performances and can help to promote sleep when practised at bed time.

Preparing for Relaxation

Before start on any relaxation routine, it is important to ensure that you mind, body and environment are properly prepared. The following steps are a guide to such preparation.

  • Sit in a comfortable chair or lie down somewhere comfortable in a quiet, warm room where you will not be interrupted.
  • If you are sitting, take your shoes off and let your feet rest on the ground. If they don't touch the floor, try andfind a book or similar object to rest them on. Uncross your legs and rest your arms on the arms on the chair.
  • If you are lying down, lie on your back with your arms at your side. If necessary use a comfortable pillow for your head. If your lower back feels uncomfortable put a cushion or pillow under your legs.

                                                  Woman meditating

Relaxation Exercise 1


  • Begin by breathing out, and then breathe in easily.  Repeat. Breathe slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • Expand your abdomen as you breathe in then raising your rib cage to let more air in until your lungs are filled right to the top.
  • Hold your breath for 3 seconds and then breathe out slowly, allowing your rib cage and stomach to relax.  Empty your lungs completely. Do not strain. Keep it slow, deep and rhythmic, for the duration of five minutes.
  • Once you have established a breathing pattern start the following sequence, tensing each part of the body separately as you breathe in, holding your breathe for 5 seconds while you keep your muscles tense, then breathing out slowly while at the same time leaving go of the tension in your muscles and relaxing.
  • Relaxation sequence:
    • Press your feet and heels down and curl your toes hard
    • Tense your calf muscles
    • Tense your thigh muscles making your legs still
    • Make your buttocks tight
    • Tense your stomach as if to receive a punch
    • Tense the muscles in your arms
    • Hunch your shoulders and press in
    • Clench you jaws, frown and screw up your eyes really tight
    • Tense all your muscles together after a few seconds relax
  • Now while still breathing slowly and deeply imagine a white rose on a black background. Try to see the rose as clearly as possible, concentrating your attention on it for 30 seconds. Do not hold your breath during this time; continue to breathe as you have been doing.
  • Now visualise another peaceful object of your choice. Again try to see this object as clearly as possible, concentrating your attention on it for 30 seconds while continuing to breathe slowly and deeply.
  • Lastly give yourself the instruction that when you come out of this exercise, you will be perfectly relaxed and alter.
  • Stretch and sit up and slowly start to move again.

(Reference: Understanding Stress by Prof Greg Wilkinson)

Relaxation Exercise 2

A Ten minute relaxation sitting in a chair

  • Sit upright and well back in a high back chair so that your back and thighs are well supported. If you like take off your shoes and let your feet rest on the ground, (if they don’t touch the floor, find a book or similar object to rest them on).  If you want to close your eyes.
  • Begin by breathing out first. Then breathe in easily just as much as you need.  Now breathe out slowly with a slight sigh, like a balloon slowly deflating. Do this once more, slowly, breathe in… breathe out, feel the tension begin to drain away.  Do this a few times slowly until you feel more relaxed. Then go back to your ordinary breathing, even, quiet, and steady.
  • Now direct your thoughts to your body. Begin with your feet. Let your feet, toes and ankles start to relax.  Breathe in slowly and gently and as you breathe out let the tension in your feet go.  Let your feet feel relaxed and heavy on the ground.
  • Now gently bring your attention to your legs.  Let your legs feel completely relaxed.  Let your thighs and knees fall slightly outwards. Take another deep breath in and hold for 3 seconds and then breathe out slowly.
  • Now think about your back and spine.  Let the tension drain away from your back and from your spine.  Follow your breathing and each time you breathe out relax your back and spine a little more.
  • Let your abdominal muscles become soft and loose.  Let your tummy rise and fall as you breathe quietly.Let your stomach completely relax.
  • Breathe slow and easy and now let the tensions ease away from your chest.  Each time you breathe out let go a little more.
  • Move your attention now to your fingers, focusing first on your left hand.  Let your fingers go limp and still. Now focus on the right hand.  Let your fingers relax.
  • Let this feeling of relaxation spread up your arms.  Feel the heaviness in your arms up to your shoulders.
  • Let your shoulders relax, let them drop easily.  Breathe in deeply from your tummy, fill your lungs, hold for a few seconds and then slowly breathe out.  Letting go of any tension left in your shoulders.
  • Think about your neck.  Feel the tension melt away from your neck.  Each time you breathe out, relax you neck a little more.
  • Now before you go further check that your feet, legs, back & spine, tummy, hands, arms, neck and shoulders are still relaxed.  Keep your breathing gently and ease.  Every time you breathe out, relax a little more and let all the tension easy away from your body.  No tension, just enjoying this feeling of relaxation.
  • Now to your face.  Let the expression come off your face.  Smooth out your brow and let your forehead feel wide and relaxed.  Let your eyebrows drop gently.  Let go of your tension round your eyes.  Let your eyelids slightly close and your eyes be still.  Let your jaw unwind with your teeth slightly apart as your jaw unwinds more and more.  Feel the relief of letting go. 
  • Having a special “something” to hold or look at for comfort

Alternatives to help manage feelings:

  • Distract yourself with something you enjoy
  • Talk to someone either by phone or in person
  • Engage in some planned work
  • Write your feelings down, draw or paint

Soothing, tension-releasing and comforting alternatives:

  • Goal orientated tasks and activities such as hammering, running, swimming, walking, throwing objects or pounding pillows or a mattress can be useful.

Alternative ways to feel alive in your body:

  • Stroke you arm or leg etc with your hand focussing on the sensation when your skin touches your skin
  • Stamping your feel until you feel them
  • Drinking a cup or tea or ice water and focus on the temperature changes in your mouth and stomach

Using alternatives to seeing marks or blood on your skin:

  • Using a marker or face paints to draw the marks on the body where you would have hurt yourself
  • Drawing or painting on paper

How else can you help yourself?

Talking to other people is important and can be a profound healing step.  Talking about self injury can be painful and uncomfortable, however the following may help:

  • Talking to someone you like and trust and who you believe will be sensitive
  • Plan what you might say ahead of time, perhaps even writing it down

For people who self injure the primary goal is to stop.  Often the person will need to talk to a therapist or counsellor and work through their experiences.  Sometime a person will require counselling at the same time and s/he is seeking alternatives to self injury.

To make an appointment with the DCU Counselling Service, simply phone

01 700 5165 or email