Cue-controlled relaxation is a quick and easy technique that will help you reduce your stress level and muscle tension. A cue is a trigger or command that helps you relax. In this case, your cue will be a word, like “relax” or “peace”. The goal of this technique is to train your body to release muscle tension when you think about your cue word. Initially, you’ll need the help of the guided instructions to help you release muscle tension in different sections of your body. But after you’ve been practicing this technique for a few weeks, you’ll be able to relax your whole body at one time simply by taking a few slow breaths and thinking about your cue word. With practice, this can become a very quick and easy technique to help you relax. Before you begin, choose a cue word that will help you relax.
To begin this exercise, you’ll need to find a comfortable chair to sit in. Later, after you’ve practiced this exercise for a few weeks, you’ll be able to do it wherever you are, even if you’re standing. You’ll also be able to do it more quickly. But to begin, choose a comfortable place to sit in a room where you won’t be disturbed. Make sure you’ll be free from distractions. Turn off your phone, television, and radio. Tell the people in your home, if there are any, that you can’t be disturbed for the next twenty minutes. Allow yourself the time and freedom to relax. You deserve it. Read the following directions before you begin. If you feel comfortable remembering them, close your eyes and begin the relaxation exercise. Or, if you would prefer, use an audio-recording device to record the directions for yourself. Then close your eyes and listen to the guided relaxation techniques that you created.
To begin, sit in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the floor and your hands resting comfortably, either on the arms of the chair or in your lap. Close your eyes. Take a slow, long breath in through your nose. Feel your belly expand like a balloon as you breathe in. Hold it for five seconds: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Then release it slowly through your mouth. Feel your belly collapse like a balloon losing its air. Again, take a slow, long breath in through your nose and feel your stomach expand. Hold it for five seconds: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Then exhale slowly through your mouth. One more time: take a slow, long breath in through your nose and feel your stomach expand. Hold it for five seconds: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Then exhale slowly through your mouth. Now begin to take slow, long breaths without holding them, and continue to breathe smoothly for the reset of this exercise.
Now, with your eyes still closed, imagine that a white beam of light shines down from the sky like a bright laser and lands on the very top of your head. Notice how warm and soothing the light makes you feel. This could be a light from God, the universe, or whatever power makes you feel comfortable. As you continue to breathe smoothly, taking slow, long breaths, notice how the light makes you feel more and more relaxed as it continues to shine on the top of your head. Now, slowly, the warm, white light begins to spread over the top of your head like soothing water. And as it does, the light begins to loosen any muscle tension that you’re feeling on the top of your head. Slowly the light begins to slide down your body, and as it moves across your forehead, all the muscle tension there is released. Then the white light continues down past your ears, the back of your head, your eyes, nose, mouth, chin, and it continues to release any tension that you’re holding there. Notice how pleasantly warm your forehead feels. Now, slowly, imagine that the light begins to move down your neck and over your shoulders, releasing any muscle tension. Then the light slowly proceeds down both of your arms and the front and back of your torso. Feel the muscles in your upper and lower back release. Notice the soothing sensation of the white light as it moves across your chest and stomach. Feel the muscles in your arms release as the light moves down to your forearm and then across both sides of your hands to your fingertips. Now notice the light moving down through your pelvis and buttocks and feel the tension being released. Again, feel the light move like soothing water across your upper and lower legs until it spreads across both the upper surfaces of your feet. Feel all of the tension leaving the muscles of your body as the white light makes your body feel warm and relaxed.
Continue to notice how peaceful and calm you feel as you continue to take slow, long, smooth breaths. Observe how your stomach continues to expand as you inhale, and feel it deflate as you exhale. Now, as you continue breathing, silently think to yourself “breathe in” as you inhale, and then silently think your cue word as you exhale. (if your cue word is other than “relax”, use that word in the following instructions.) Slowly inhale and think: “breathe in.” Slowly exhale and think: “relax.” As you do, notice your entire body feeling relaxed at the same time. Feel all the muscle tension in your body being released as you focus on your cue word. Again, inhale and think: “breathe in.” Exhale and think: “relax.” Feel all the tension in your body releasing. Again, inhale … “breathe in.” Exhale … “relax.” Feel all the tension in your body releasing.
Continue breathing and thinking these words at your own pace for several minutes. With each breath, notice how relaxed your entire body feels. When your mind begins to wanders, return your focus to the words “breathe in” and “relax.”
Practice cue-controlled relaxation technique twice a day, and record how long it takes you to feel relaxed. With daily practice, this technique should help you relax more quickly each time. Again, remember that the ultimate goal of this technique is to train your entire body to relax simply when you think of your cue word, such as “relax.” This will only come with regular practice. Initially, you might also have to think of the white-light imagery and engage in slow, deep breathing to help yourself relax. But with practice this technique can help you relax in many distressing situations. You can also combine this exercise with the previous safe-place visualization. Engaging in cue-controlled relaxation first will help you feel even more safe and calm in that visualization process.