Meditation and relaxation exercises

Meditation and relaxation exercises can be remarkably effective in addressing anxiety, stress, insomnia, phobias, panic episodes, test or other performance anxiety, and other similar concerns. These strategies can take as little as five or ten minutes and once or twice a day, and there are several websites, Youtube channels, and smartphone applications which offer free, downloadable, audio or video recordings with instructions.

    • The UCSD Counseling & Psychological Services website offers free, downloadable, audio recordings of guided meditations and relaxation exercises in several different languages. Just click on the iRelax tab of their iFlourish & Self-Help Tech webpage, which is included under their website’s Resources heading.
    • The UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center also offers several free, downloadable, audio recordings and transcripts of guided meditations in English, Spanish, Mandarin, and several other languages.
    • The UCSD Center for Mindfulness also offers several free, downloadable, audio and video recordings of guided meditations.
    • The New York Times offers a detailed, step-by-step guide on How to Meditate; the guide includes detailed instructions and free, downloadable audio recordings.
    • Search for “guided meditations” to find extensive audio playlists on the music streaming services offered by Google, Apple, Amazon, or Spotify, or conduct a search on YouTube or TicTok to find relevant videos.
    • Search the “app store” on your smartphone for applications that offer relaxation and meditation exercises–use the keywords “relaxation,” “meditation,” “stress,” or “anxiety.” Ten Percent Happier, Headspace, Calm, and Meditation Studio are examples of popular apps; each offers limited free resources and more extensive ones for a monthly fee.  There are also apps which integrate religious practice with meditation–for example, Hallow is an app designed for Christians interested in prayerful meditation.
    • I’ve recorded audio instructions for what is known as a “progressive muscle relaxation exercise.” Anyone can listen to the instructions directly from this webpage or download the MP3 file onto their own computer or smartphone. 

Listen to a few different guided meditations and relaxation exercises, find one you like, and then practice whichever approach you prefer at least once or twice a day. Expect your ability to relax to improve as you continue practicing, and expect to practice two or three weeks before you become genuinely proficient. Once you learn your preferred approach well, you may no longer require the recorded instructions, and you can tailor the approach to your own liking.

Here are some tips for developing your meditation and relaxation skills:

  • Avoid practicing immediately after engaging in vigorous exercise.
  • Sit quietly and in a comfortable position, with your legs uncrossed and your arms resting at your sides. This is especially important when you are first learning the exercise.
  • Adopt a calm, accepting attitude towards your practice. Don’t worry about how well you’re doing or about possible interruptions. Instead, know that with repetition your ability to relax will grow.
  • When you are ready, close your eyes, begin listening to the recording of the exercise, and follow the directions.
  • As you work through the meditation or relaxation exercise, you can expect your mind to wander a bit—when this happens you can simply redirect your focus back to the recording.
  • Once you’ve finished, stretch, look around and remain still another minute or two.

As you become skilled with your approach, try applying it to specific situations that might otherwise be anxiety provoking, such as difficult social situations, tests, oral presentations, job interviews, and so forth. You might also meditate or do a relaxation exercise just before bedtime to improve sleep, or first thing in the morning to feel centered as you start a stressful day.

To learn more about meditation and relaxation exercises you might consider signing up for a program at UCSD’s Center for Mindfulness. The center’s broad range of workshops and classes are open to anyone, and offer expert guidance in mindfulness and meditation.  You can also learn more about meditation, relaxation exercises, and other effective ways of managing stress and anxiety by reading The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook (7th ed.), by M. Davis, E.R. Eshelman, and M. McKay, published in 2019 by New Harbinger Publications.