Art. 9

Anxious Mind

How to Calm an Anxious Mind with Just One Word

Cue-controlled relaxation can be a valuable therapeutic tool.

What Is Cue-Controlled Relaxation?

Cue-controlled relaxation is a science-backed method that pairs one word with a relaxation technique. This strategy takes advantage of classical conditioning. Remember Pavlov and his dogs?

Ivan Pavlov was a Russian physiologist who learned he could train dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. He noticed dogs would salivate when he presented food. He would ring the bell and give the dogs food immediately after. Over time, the dogs showed an automatic response — they salivated when Pavlov rang the bell, even without food present.

Cue-controlled relaxation is a type of classical conditioning that pairs a state of relaxation with a word of your choosing. Over time and with practice, saying that one word causes deep relaxation.

Think about that. By taking time to adopt this practice, you can learn to be at ease with one word.

Here is a step-by-step way to use this technique.

1. Pick Your Word

Pick a word like “relax,” “calm,” “settle,” or any other word that you associate with deep relaxation. I personally use the word “easy.”

2. Practice Relaxation

Pick a relaxation technique that you can pair with your word. Paced breathing is a great starter exercise. Breathe in for a count of four and out for a count of six. As you breathe out, say your cue word. As you breathe out, feel your muscles relax. Let everything go — especially common areas of tension, like the jaw, eyes, shoulders, or hands.

Which is your magic word?

Practice this for three to five minutes, or until you feel completely relaxed.

Other relaxation techniques include mindfulness, progressive muscle relaxation, and other breathing techniques.

Continue to practice daily. Aim to practice two to three times per day.

3. Shorten the Time You Practice

Once you’ve practiced daily and effectively paired your cue word with a relaxed state, you’re ready to gradually reduce the time it takes to relax with your cue word. Shorten your breathing exercise in increments of one minute. Don’t move on to the next time increment until you can achieve a relaxed state. Shorten the time until eventually, just saying the word relaxes your mind and body.

4. Enjoy Relaxation

Once you practice these steps, you are ready to use one word to achieve a state of deep relaxation. One word to reduce stress. One word to quiet your worrying mind. Sit back while you use one word to take back control in your life.

Now when someone tells you to “just relax,” you actually can.