Take Control of Your Life with ‘The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook’

Does stress rule your life? Does relaxation sound like something that only other people get to experience? Martha Davis, PhD, knows all about stress, but she also knows how to help.

As an intern in the late 1970s, Davis saw patient after patient suffering from the effects of stress. These patients were spending hours in therapy sessions, just trying to learn how to deal with the demands of life. Davis organized a class where they could learn these skills in a group setting.

Handouts from these workshops became the basis for her book, The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook, first published in 1980 and now in its sixth edition. As the preface for the most recent edition, published in 2008,  Davis says, “To date, more than 700,000 people have purchased this book to learn how to … take control of their hectic lives.”

Davis spoke to WebPsychology about her book and how people can use it to gain control of their lives.

WebPsychology: Is this topic just as relevant today as when the book was first published, or is it perhaps even more so?

Martha Davis: It is extremely relevant today. The major difference today is that people know a whole lot more about stress than they did in 1980. There’s a huge amount of research showing that stress management and relaxation can benefit their health and quality of life. But people are not so different than they were in 1980 when it comes to actually applying the tools of stress management and relaxation. They typically have to be dealing with some major bump in the road and be suffering some painful symptoms of stress before they are willing to change their behavior.

W.P.: What success stories have you heard from the recommendations and techniques in this book?

M.D.: One of my favorite stories is my own. Early on in my career, I was suffering from bruxism to the point that my dentist wanted to fit me an expensive retainer to protect my teeth while I was grinding in my sleep. I used a combination of body scanning, progressive relaxation, meditation and physical exercise to to manage this painful symptom. I made a point to check in with my body … and do a short form of progressive relaxation as needed. Not only do I still have great teeth, but also a powerful set of coping skills to help get me through the occasional rough patches in my life.

W.P.: Do you recommend working straight through the book?

M.D.: I recommend reading the introductory chapter, which has questionnaires to help readers identify their sources and symptoms of stress, followed by chart to direct them to the chapters that are most likely to help them cope with their particular problems. I also recommend reading the body-scanning chapter because it makes people aware of how they carry stress in their bodies before they learn to relax. In addition to raising self-awareness, it is a good motivator to read on and learn to apply the techniques in the later chapters.

W.P.: How can this book be used in conjunction with the help of a medical professional?

M.D.: I know many therapists who use this book as an adjunct to therapy. The questionnaires and exercises make ideal homework assignments. Many patients can apply the skills in this workbook on their own. But for some patients, the best results come when the helping professional … explain[s] the rationale behind a particular assignment, runs the client through the exercise … and then follows up on the homework at the following session.