• Quote of the Day
    "Don't let what you can't do interfere with what you can do."
    John Wooden, posted by David Baxter

Under Stress

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Currently, I suffer from performance anxiety which is related to school work. I had decided to change career and because of this I will be going back to university next September. Right now, I'm taking some science courses to refresh my science knowledge. I had this problem when I was attending university 15 years ago but it was minor. I know my performance anxiety problem is not unique because many students suffer from performance anxiety, fear of failure, when they are studying for exams and while they're taking courses.

When I do have performance anxiety, the muscles around my right eye, right half of my nose, and the right side of my scalp do tense up which then causes some discomfort. In the last week, I'm trying to use progressive muscle relaxation to relax these muscles. It does work but my muscles tend to tense up again after 4-5 minutes of relaxation. In addition to the muscle tension, sometimes I do feel heart palpation but I'm able to get rid of that using deep breathing.

I would like to get rid of my muscle tension so that I can concentrate and focus better whenever I'm studying. This is why I'm using progressive muscle relaxation. Does using progressive muscle relaxation over a long period of time help to reduce the occurrence of muscle tension and does it help to lengthen the relaxation period whenever muscle tension is felt?

I had read several Internet articles talking about students using hypnosis to help them to reduce their stress and performance anxiety. Has anyone used hypnosis to help them to relax while studying or has anyone used it to relieve muscle tension arising from stress? If so, does it work?

I had read the book Pass Through Panic written by Dr. Claire Weekes. In this book, she tells the reader to accept their anxiety and stress which means the person should allow their symptoms to happen rather than trying to fight it. According to her, by doing this, symptoms related to stress and anxiety will dissipate over the long term. This in turn means the person will have less occurrence of stress and anxiety or feel less stressed and anxious in the long run. In other words, she is telling the reader to become desensitized to stress and anxiety so as to prevent the occurrence of this problem in the future or to minimize the occurrences of this problem. Has anyone used this technique? If so, does it work?
 

David Baxter

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Welcome to Psychlinks, Stress.

When I do have performance anxiety, the muscles around my right eye, right half of my nose, and the right side of my scalp do tense up which then causes some discomfort. In the last week, I'm trying to use progressive muscle relaxation to relax these muscles. It does work but my muscles tend to tense up again after 4-5 minutes of relaxation. In addition to the muscle tension, sometimes I do feel heart palpation but I'm able to get rid of that using deep breathing.

I would like to get rid of my muscle tension so that I can concentrate and focus better whenever I'm studying. This is why I'm using progressive muscle relaxation. Does using progressive muscle relaxation over a long period of time help to reduce the occurrence of muscle tension and does it help to lengthen the relaxation period whenever muscle tension is felt?

Absolutely. Like many things, it is a skill that requires practice, preferably at least once a day in the beginning. The more you practice, the better you will get at achieving full relaxation. In time, you should be able to achieve the same level of muscle relaxation without the necessity of going through the full tense-relax series. I started using this not only with clients but with myself many years ago and by now I am able to achieve the effects simply by slowing down and regulating my breathing and allowing my arms and legs to go limp while sitting in a chair. When necessary, I can even do this in public quite effectively without other people knowing.

So continue to practice. It really does work!

I had read several Internet articles talking about students using hypnosis to help them to reduce their stress and performance anxiety. Has anyone used hypnosis to help them to relax while studying or has anyone used it to relieve muscle tension arising from stress? If so, does it work?

I think it can work, for some people. Part of it seems to be a function of how sensitive the individual is to suggestion - those who are more suggestible seem more likely to benefit from hypnosis; those who are highly resistant to suggestion tend to be resistant to hypnosis.

I had read the book Pass Through Panic written by Dr. Claire Weekes. In this book, she tells the reader to accept their anxiety and stress which means the person should allow their symptoms to happen rather than trying to fight it. According to her, by doing this, symptoms related to stress and anxiety will dissipate over the long term. This in turn means the person will have less occurrence of stress and anxiety or feel less stressed and anxious in the long run. In other words, she is telling the reader to become desensitized to stress and anxiety so as to prevent the occurrence of this problem in the future or to minimize the occurrences of this problem. Has anyone used this technique? If so, does it work?

That's a cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) technique. This can be quite effective with anxiety disorders. See also the books by David Burns in the Resources section here at psychlinks and in the Book Review section.
 

Under Stress

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Thanks Dr. Baxter for you comments and suggestion.

I did a quick skim of Dr. David Burns book "Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy". I like what he said in the book. Many of the stuff in chapter 3 of this book does apply to me. For example, my fear of failure stems from my need to be perfect all of the time. Furthermore, my attitude towards the "all or nothing" approach" is another contributing factor that causes the tension I feel on a daily basis. Although this book is focused on resolving depression, I assume many of the techniques described in his book can be used to treat anxiety as well. The hard part for me now is to use those techniques on a daily basis as a way to modify my automatic negative thoughts in my subconscious mind. I know I can do it but it will be challenging. The good thing about his technique is that it can reduce/eliminate anxiety in as little as one month but to achieve this I need to practice his techniques on a daily basis.

The only thing I didn't like about his book is that he had quoted way too much studies to prove that cognitive behavioral therapy is effective at reducing or even eliminating anxeity. I know he is doing this to get the reader to trust this technique but he didn't need to write 50 pages to prove its effectiveness.

Regarding progressive muscle relaxation. Yes, this technique is good for getting the body to relax but I don't think it can be used to modify the person's negative thought. In other words, this technique is used to treat the symptoms of anxiety but it does not attack the true cause of anxiety which is the negative thinking that goes on in the mind of a person suffering from anxiety. To get rid of anxiety totally, one has to change their thoughts. Using progressive muscle relaxation just induce temporary relaxation and does not eliminate muscle tension permanently because the negative thought will always be there to trigger more muscle tension. Is my understanding of anxiety and its treatment correct? Oh yes, this would also apply to deep breathing.

Dr. David Burns had also written "The Feeling Good Handbook". Are the contents of this book similar or even identical to the contents of the "Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy" book?

Once again, thanks for suggesting Dr. David Burns' book. I will use the techniques of Dr. David Burns and Dr. Clair Weekes to help me to cope with performance anxiety.
 

David Baxter

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Dr. David Burns had also written "The Feeling Good Handbook". Are the contents of this book similar or even identical to the contents of the "Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy" book?

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy is an older book primarily directed at CBT for people suffering from depression. The Feeling Good Handbook is a later book which is expanded to describe how to use CBT techniques not only with depression but also with anxiety, shyness, anger, dealing with difficult people, and other issues. I usually recommend the Handbook.

There's also his newest book, When Panic Attacks dealing with panic disorder.
 

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