HELP FOR STRESS DISORDERS

By Eleanor Eggers, Ph.D., LP, BCB, (Senior Fellow)

 Autogenic Phrases


The Autogenic Phrases were developed by Elmer and Alyce Green of the Menninger Foundation and were inspired by the formulas of Autogenic Training.  They were meant to provide a quick method of achieving self-generated deep relaxation.  They have proven to be very effective and very useful.  Some people refer to them as Autogenic Training, but they are not the same thing at all.  They are valuable for what they do, but they are not nearly as effective or as interesting and enjoyable as real Autogenic Training.  They do provide a way of getting into a fairly deep state of relaxation quickly, but it is not as deep as that made possible by Autogenic Training.  Therefore, using Autogenic Phrases is not as effective as using real Autogenic Training for the treatment of stress disorders.


I have used the Autogenic Phrases with many of my patients, and I have found them to be quite successful in reducing and eliminating stress disorders.  In case you would like to use them, I make them available to you here. But please do not memorize them.  Simply use them as a guide to show you what kind of thoughts to promote.  Keep your mind as passive and inactive as you can; and focus on quiet, pleasant, comfortable things.  


You may want to practice putting yourself into a state of fairly deep relaxation by using the Autogenic Phrases for a short period of time and then switch over to learning the “real thing”, namely, Autogenic Training.  I believe that you will find Autogenic Training to be much more enjoyable for the long term and also more effective for reducing and eliminating your stress disorders.  


With my patients I read the phrases to them very slowly in our first session while they listened and repeated each phrase to themselves, keeping their minds on the phrases and the part of the body which was being mentioned in the phrase.  At the end of the session I gave them a sheet containing the Autogenic Phrases.  I instructed them to look it over to get an idea of the type of statements which were included.  They were not to memorize the list of phrases. They were just to learn what sort of things to say to themselves to produce passive thinking and a state of deep relaxation.


They were instructed to practice at home for about twenty minutes twice a day in addition to weekly sessions in my office.  They were told to practice while lying down with their arms at their sides. (The best position for achieving deep relaxation is lying on your back with your arms at your sides.  If you go to sleep too readily that way, then practicing sitting up is acceptable.)  


During their home practice they were to think thoughts similar to those in the Autogenic Phrases.    Or they were to imagine themselves in a very quiet, pleasant, relaxing situation, such as lying on a beach in the sun while listening to the breezes in the palm trees and the ocean waves rolling in on the shore.  They chose situations to imagine which had meaning for them.


The most important thing they learned was to maintain passivity and to avoid active thinking.  Passivity would include focusing on parts of one's own body and how calm, comfortable, heavy, warm, soft, loose, or limp they felt. Focusing on one's own breathing and how effortless, automatic, and shallow it is is especially relaxing.  Relaxed breathing is shallow because the body does not need much air when it is lying still and being completely inactive.  


By active thinking” I mean any thinking which involves making plans of any kind, figuring out what to do about any situation, solving any problems, worrying about one's own or another person's situation.  Another way of putting it is to say that active thinking is any thinking which involves effort.  The goal is to spend the time being a passive observer rather than an active thinker.


You can follow the same instructions I gave my patients while using the Autogenic Phrases which are given below. First, you should read them over to get an idea of the kind of thoughts you should think to yourself as you are practicing.  You must not try to memorize them. Instead just use them to become aware of the type of thoughts you need to promote.  You will need to keep your mind focused on your own body and how relaxed, comfortable, warm, heavy, loose, and limp it is.  Move from one part of your body to another.  Include thinking about how quiet your mind is.


When you first try to practice deep relaxation, inevitably other thoughts will come into your mind.  You will start thinking about all kinds of extraneous things.  This happens to everyone and is unavoidable, especially at first.  You need to develop the knack of being very gentle with yourself about it and simply letting the unwanted thoughts come and then letting them go again.  Don't scold yourself. Simply accept the intrusions as normal and go back to watching your calm, effortless, automatic breathing or whatever pleases you in order to resume your passivity.   You will get better and better at this as time goes by.


When you come to the end of the practice session, you need to cancel this state of deep relaxation in order to prepare you for becoming active again.  If you fail to cancel you might temporarily become a little dizzy or disoriented when you first get up.  You do this by making fists of both hands, bending and tensing both arms, taking a deep breath, and then opening your eyes. It is not necessary to cancel if you are planning to go to sleep or if you are interrupted by such a thing as the phone ringing. 


Use of Biofeedback 


In my practice I always combined relaxation therapy with biofeedback.  This was very helpful in teaching people how to maintain passive thoughts and avoid active thoughts.  It is not essential, however.  If you notice that your hands and feet become warmer as the result of a practice session, that is a sign that you have been successfully relaxing your mind and body.  Your hands and feet become warmer when you relax your autonomic nervous system because this results in the relaxation and dilation of the blood vessels in the periphery of your body, thus bringing more blood to the surface of your hands and feet.  


You might want to use a tiny thermometer and tape it to a finger to check your hand temperature at the beginning and end of each practice session.  It would be helpful  to keep a record of your starting and ending temperatures for each session.  Your temperature should increase during each session, and your starting temperature should increase over time (unless it is already quite high in the beginning). “Normal” relaxed hand temperature is 93 degrees, while “extra” relaxed hand temperature is 95 degrees or higher. (For additional information on biofeedback please see the section titled “Additional Help”.) 


The Autogenic Phrases are as follows:


  • I feel quite quiet.
  • I am beginning to feel quite relaxed.
  • My feet feel heavy and relaxed.
  • My ankles, my knees, and my hips feel heavy, relaxed, and comfortable.
  • My solar plexus, and the whole central portion of my body, feel relaxed and quiet.
  • My hands, my arms, and my shoulders feel heavy, relaxed, and comfortable.
  • My neck, my jaws, and my tongue feel relaxed and comfortable.
  • My forehead feels relaxed and smooth.
  • My eyes are quiet and relaxed.
  • My whole body feels quiet, heavy, comfortable, and relaxed.
  • I am quite relaxed.
  • My arms and hands are heavy and warm.
  • I feel quite quiet.
  • My whole body is relaxed, and my hands are warm.
  • My hands are warm.
  • Warmth is flowing into my hands, they are warm.
  • My mind is calm and quiet.
  • I feel serene and still.


Use of Recordings


Usually I do not recommend that you record the Autogenic Phrases and listen to the recording while you do your relaxation practice. That would not help you learn to put yourself into a state of deep relaxation on  your own.  Our goal is for you to be able to produce a relaxed state entirely on your own at any place, at any time, without any equipment whatsoever.  Therefore, it is not a good idea for you to become dependent on recordings.


However, there are times when recordings are very helpful. If you are experiencing insomnia or have suffered a traumatic experience and find it extremely difficult to turn off your active mind, then the temporary use of a relaxation-producing recording can be a life-saver.  If you are a worrier and can't seem to turn off the worry thoughts, then listening to a recording would help you do so long enough to fall asleep.  You don't want to become dependent on the recording, however.  You want to switch over to practicing relaxation without the recording as soon as you can, eventually learning to relax deeper and deeper. It would be advisable to begin learning and practicing regular Autogenic Training as soon as possible in order to accomplish this.