Autogenic training is a relaxation technique focusing on promoting feelings of calm and relaxation in your body to help reduce stress and anxieties.
More specifically, it helps mitigate anxieties resulting from situations or conditions that may overwhelm us with stress, frustration, or sadness, according to Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, a neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University.
German psychologist Johannes Heinrich Schultz developed autogenic training in the 1920s as a way to target the physical expression of stress by using relaxation exercises to gain a level of control over these processes.
Currently, this technique is often used in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy, says Hafeez, but it can also stand alone as a tool to help people cope with their stress.
The goal of most relaxation techniques, including autogenic training, is to encourage the natural relaxation response in your body by slowing breathing, lowering blood pressure, and, ultimately, producing a feeling of increased well-being, according to the
While originally developed as a way to teach people how to encourage physical relaxation on their own, autogenic training is often used in counseling sessions for managing the symptoms of anxiety, which Hafeez says includes any mental or physical manifestations of anxiety.
“Conditions such as social anxiety disorder (SAD), general anxiety disorder (GAD), depression, and insomnia can benefit from autogenic training,” explains Hafeez.
Autogenic training is also helpful in managing daily stress, and it can even be helpful during panic attacks.
Autogenic training should not replace your current treatment plan. If you’re participating in psychotherapy or taking medication for anxiety, autogenic training should be used in addition to your current treatment.
However, if you’re trying techniques like progressive muscle relaxation and autogenic training on your own (or with a counselor or therapist), and you’re not feeling any alleviation when it comes to stress, frustrations, sadness, or anxiety, Hafeez says it’s time to consult your internist for referrals to other mental health professionals who can help assess how you’re feeling and guide you in finding the right method to deal with your specific case.
Practicing autogenic training is most successful when performed with a trained professional, such as a therapist. Once you’re comfortable with the method, you can begin to use these relaxation techniques on your own.
Here, Hafeez shares the steps used in autogenic training for stress reduction and to help reduce some of the symptoms of anxiety.
- Get set up. Before you begin, make sure to find a quiet, comfortable place to relax. Ideally, this should be the same place you use each time you practice relaxation techniques. You can do these exercises lying down or sitting up. Make sure to remove your glasses and loosen any tight clothing.
- Begin with your breathing. The first step is to slow down your breathing. Make sure you are in a comfortable position and start with slow, even breaths. Once you have controlled breath, tell yourself, “I am completely calm.” Saying this to yourself may even be enough to put you in a state of relaxation.
- Focus attention on different areas of your body. Start with your right arm and repeat the phrase, “My right arm is heavy, I am completely calm,” while breathing slowly and controlled. Do this again with your other arm and legs, always going back to “I am completely calm.”
- Shift attention to your heartbeat. While breathing deeply, repeat to yourself six times, “My heartbeat is calm and regular,” and then say, “I am completely calm.” This continues on for different areas of your body, including the abdomen, your chest, and forehead. In addition to these steps, you may also want to follow along with a voice recording with directions. This allows you to fully relax and focus on the technique.
Autogenic training can be an effective tool for managing stress and promoting relaxation. That said, there are other ways to stop stress and anxiety in its tracks. Here are eight tips to help you bust stress and keep calm.
1. Get anxious thoughts out of your head
Having a difficult day? Grab a pen and paper and get writing. Penning your thoughts and feelings helps remove anxious thoughts from your mind, which can help lower stress levels and promote relaxation.
To make journaling a habit, spend 15 minutes at the end of the day to writing down your worries from the day.
2. Take a guided imagery break
Close your eyes and picture an event or time that makes you feel relaxed. Imagine what it sounds and smells like. What do you see and feel?
Guided imagery helps your mind send messages to your body to relax. Use this technique when you feel your stress levels rising or as a way to prevent stress before it takes hold.
3. Soak up stress
Soaking in a warm tub is a great way to relieve sore muscles and relax your body. It also does wonders for a tired, overworked mind. (If you don’t have a bathtub, take a shower or soak your feet in warm water.) Add a bit of Epsom salt and turn down the lights. This is also a wonderful time to get in a few minutes of mindfulness meditation.
4. Tune in to a podcast
Not sure how to meditate or practice deep breathing on your own? Try listening to a podcast. There are several podcasts online that take you step by step through the process. And the best part? They range in length from 5 to 30 minutes, so you can choose the one that fits your needs.
5. Try the 3 x 3 technique
If the idea of taking time out of your busy day for a breathing break makes you even more anxious, then start with the 3 x 3 technique. Carve out 3 minutes, 3 times a day to focus on your breathing.
Use this time to be more mindful of your breathing or focus on a specific breathing technique. This is also an excellent time to practice mindfulness meditation, which allows you to be aware, and observe and notice thoughts, feelings, and body states without reacting to them.
6. Practice yoga and tai chi
Both yoga and tai chi combine the use of breath and deep breathing with a series of movements or poses designed to promote calm and relaxation. Regular practice of yoga and tai chi can help calm the mind and relax the body.
7. Make time for music
Whether it’s listening to a calming melody, playing your favorite instrument, or singing along to a song, music is a great way to promote relaxation.
Schedule 10 to 15 minutes each day for music. Sing or listen to your favorite artist in the car. Play the piano when you get home from work. Or fall asleep with soft music playing in the background.
8. Find people who are calming
Aim to surround yourself with people who have a calming presence, especially in times of extreme stress.
If you’re using autogenic training as part of an overall treatment plan, make sure to communicate any concerns with your doctor or therapist. “While autogenic training can’t really worsen your symptoms, if you don’t feel any better after consistent attempts at managing your anxiety, you may need additional tools and help,” says Hafeez.
Additionally, if you’re implementing autogenic relaxation techniques on your own, be aware of its limitations in treating mental health issues.
While you can learn some of the techniques on your own, the best way to have success is to work with an expert, preferably a therapist trained in this method. You may need to search online for a mental health professional with experience in autogenic training or talk to your primary healthcare provider and ask for a referral.
Another option gaining popularity and momentum is online therapy. Through fee-based apps and services like Talkspace, Rethink My Therapy, Online-Therapy, and BetterHelp, you can have access to a therapist online or via text.
Autogenic training is a relaxation technique that can help lower stress levels and promote a feeling of calm in the mind and body.
Although this method is useful on its own for minor stress reduction and basic relaxation exercises, autogenic training should not replace psychotherapy or medication for mental health conditions.