Dealing with Stress – The Benefits of Autogenic Training

Let’s be honest, we live in a stressful society. The sources of our stress are numerous. Examples can include unhappiness at work or at home, challenges at school, world events, social media, the list goes on. Now, stress in itself is a normal response to events like a big test or an important presentation. However, experience large amounts of stress over a prolonged period of time can lead to problems.

Why Reducing Stress is Important

One danger of prolonged stress is that it can lead to anxiety-related disorders. Anxiety-related disorders are defined as disproportionate responses to fear and stress. These disorders are extremely common in the United States especially. According to an article from Anxiety.org, 40% of American adults have experienced an anxiety-related disorder in their lifetime1.

When a person is dealing with an excessive amount of stress or an anxiety-related disorder, it is important to both their physical and emotional well being to reduce that stress. It has been shown that anxiety-related disorders have several co-morbidities. This means that it can lead to other health problems. Some of the co-morbidities of anxiety-related disorders include obesity, cardiovascular disorders, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Often, people turn to medication to try to alleviate their stress and anxiety. According to one report, more than one in ten Americans take antidepressant medication2. Unfortunately, sometimes these drugs can have side effects, or be ineffective. Accordingly, people have tried using alternative means of reducing stress and anxiety. One such method of reducing stress is the technique known as autogenic training.

Origins of Autogenic Training

Autogenic training is a psychophysiological relaxation technique. What this means is that you use the mind to relax the rest of the body. The origins of autogenic training back to Germany in the 1920s. A Psychologist named Johannes Schultz created autogenic training as a systematic means of relaxation3. His initial findings were published in 1928. In 1932, Schultz published the first of seven volumes on autogenic training.

In the 1970s, autogenic training caught the attention of Dr. Herbert Benson. He added this relaxation technique to the treatment options at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine4. Today it is one of the most effective psychophysiological relaxation techniques in the medical field. It is even used by NASA astronauts when training for space missions.

Benefits of Autogenic Training

The benefits of practicing autogenic training occur in both the short term and long term. The immediate benefits of autogenic training include relaxed muscles and decreased heart rate. The long-term benefits are both physical and emotional. In the Korean study, researchers found that the students who practiced the autogenic relaxation techniques had reduced levels of stress. This is even more impressive when coupled with the fact that the control group’s stress levels increased in the same time frame.

The ability to reduce and cope with stress can be especially important in careers like nursing. It is also essential in jobs like the military, and law enforcement. This fact led one research team to focus on Italian police officers. In this study, researchers found that a combination of physical and autogenic training reduced stress levels and improved the officers’ ability to deal with stressful situations.

Have you ever noticed that people who are constantly under stress are extremely irritable and not fun to be around? Well, autogenic training aids with that as well. In the Korean study, participants reported improved mood, as well as decreased anger, frustration and depression. In the case of the Italian study, officers who participated in the program reported that they achieved their goals of improving their relationships with co-workers and families.

How it Works

Essentially, autogenic training is conducted through a series of practiced mental relaxation cues. The idea is that concentration on these mental cues produces a physiological response. In a study on the effects of autogenic training on Korean nursing students, researchers instructed participants in the use of five of these relaxation cues over eight weeks5.

Practicing autogenic training at is a simple task. This is part of its appeal. However, like all things, it requires practice. For those who want to begin doing autogenic training at home, here are the steps.

  • Be in a relaxed position in a quiet environment
  • Begin taking deep, slow, breaths
  • Concentrate on the 1st phrase, “my left/right arm is heavy” (depending on your hand dominance
  • Concentrate on the 2nd phrase, “my left/right arm is warm”
  • Concentrate on the 3rd phrase, “my breathing is calm and regular”
  • Concentrate on the 4th phrase, “my solar plexus is warm”
  • Concentrate on the 5th phrase, “my forehead is cool”
  • Concentrate on the 6th phrase, “My heartbeat is calm and regular”

When first beginning, it is best to split the sessions into groups of 3. As you progress, you can add more phrases to your sessions.

The key to producing the physiological responses is the mental focus. When doing autogenic training, it is best to be in a quiet room in a relaxed position with your eyes closed. Getting to where you actually experience the physical sensations will take time and practice. In the Korean study, the students participated in weekly group sessions and practiced twice daily on their own.

Here is a video so that you can get started with practicing autogenic training

If you liked this video, you can get the full audiobook on autogenic training for beginners here.

There are also book resources that can help you get started too.
Autogenic Training developed by Dr. Schultz, J. H.: A gentle way to relax

 

Conclusion

In today’s stress-filled society, having relaxation techniques such as autogenic are extremely important. With almost 100 years of scientific research and practice, autogenic training is a tried and true method of reducing stress. The benefits further increase even further when coupled with physical exercise. So before you go straight to medication, talk to your doctor about autogenic training as a treatment option.

Sources

  1. https://www.anxiety.org/what-is-anxiety#what-is-anxiety
  2. https://adaa.org/finding-help/treatment/medication
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Heinrich_Schultz
  4. https://www.massgeneral.org/bhi/
  5. https://www.asian-nursingresearch.com/article/S1976-1317(14)00070-X/fulltext
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5923620/