Relaxation Exercises

Relaxation is a skill which can be learned to help to manage stress and anxiety. With regular practice relaxation exercises can produce a number of benefits including improved concentration and memory, better academic performance, reduction in anxiety and worry and less reactivity to stressors. There are many different types of relaxation exercise. Below are a few of these exercises which you can listen to on your computer or download onto an MP3 player.

For more information on managing stress and anxiety please see our e-book in the self-help section of our website.

Breathing Exercises

Our bodies naturally maintain a balance between carbon dioxide and oxygen but when we are stressed we often begin to breathe very quickly (hyperventilate) and end up taking in more oxygen than we need. This in turn triggers a number of chemical changes that are harmless but produce symptoms such as dizziness, light-headedness and confusion. These harmless symptoms are then often misinterpreted as frightening or dangerous and so feed feelings of anxiety or even panic. Breathing exercises are designed to help you slow down your breathing and so reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.

A breathing exercise is available here in MP3 format to listen to. A breathing exercise is also outlined in an information sheet from the Centre for Clinical Interventions. This needs to be practiced regularly so that you get skilled in managing your breathing rate. Such breathing exercises can then be used at times when you are feeling stressed or anxious such as before you go into an exam or give a presentation at university.

Progressive muscle relaxation

Another type of relaxation exercise is called progressive muscle relaxation. The stress response can lead to muscle tension and progressive muscle relaxation helps you to learn how to recognise the difference between tension and relaxation in the body and so help you to release the tension from your muscles. The general method for practicing progressive muscle relaxation is to tense and then relax all of the main muscle groups in your body.

The Centre for Clinical Interventions has a useful information sheet on progressive muscle relaxation which outlines the procedure for practicing this exercise. A guided progressive muscle relaxation exercise is also available here in MP3 format.

Autogenic Relaxation Exercises

Autogenic relaxation training aims to bring about physical changes that are linked with relaxation, such as heaviness and warmth. These sensations can then trigger the sequence of other physiological changes that occur during the relaxation response. A guided autogenic relaxation exercise is available here in MP3 format.


Visualization is a method which can also be used to help reduce stress and anxiety. The general approach is to imagine a relaxing scene to help bring about the relaxation response. A guided visualization exercise is available here in MP3 format.