Behaviour rehearsal

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Behaviour rehearsal is a distraction technique that can help you prepare for a stressful event. Learn practice tips to help you improve this technique.

Key points

  • You can use behaviour rehearsal to imagine an event before it happens and use relaxation methods to help you prepare for it.
  • Learn to do behaviour rehearsal by breaking a situation into different parts, imaging how you feel at each point and practising the relaxation techniques you can use to cope.
  • It's OK if a fearful or unhelpful thought comes to mind while you practise.

Behaviour rehearsal helps you to prepare for an event that you think will be stressful before it even happens. Since most young people know what situations will cause them stress, preparing ahead of time helps to reduce that stress.

Behaviour rehearsal involves imagining the event ahead of time and then using the relaxation methods you’ve learned while you imagine the event. You can also rehearse your relaxation methods with your child life specialist or your psychologist.

Can you think of some events that make you feel stressed?

Learning to do a behaviour rehearsal

Let’s work through an example. Imagine that you are going to go to the hospital for a painful procedure and are worried that you will have difficulty coping with it. Just thinking about it makes you nervous.

What you need to do is break the situation into parts that you can imagine. Here, we can break it down into four parts.

1. Practising what you will do ahead of time

Even though you have had other painful procedures in the past, you still feel nervous. So, to prepare, set aside some time to rehearse what you are going to do to relax, stay calm, and get through the procedure. It can help to get someone to explain each step of the procedure so you can imagine how you will relax during each part.

Imagine being in the procedure room and calming yourself with positive thoughts such as "I can do this. I can get through it. I have made it before and my courage is getting stronger." Picture yourself succeeding in staying calmer than last time. Don’t forget to relax your muscles and breathe deeply as you imagine each part.

2. Travelling to the hospital

You expect to be nervous as you get closer to the hospital. You may have butterflies in your stomach ​or your heart may be pounding fast. Use belly breathing or mini-relaxation to imagine yourself arriving at the hospital. Then, when you are actually on your way there, repeat your muscle relaxation and breathing along with your positive statements about how you can get through the procedure.

3. Walking to the procedure room

Imagine how you will feel as you walk to the procedure room. Imagine your heart pounding hard and fast. Imagine how it feels to have your thoughts racing. Now, use belly breathing or mini-relaxation to imagine yourself walking calmly and confidently to the procedure room. On the day of the procedure, use your breathing, muscle relaxation, and positive thoughts.

4. Coping with the painful procedure

Practise using the muscle and breathing relaxation along with the positive thoughts while you imagine being in the procedure room. Remember to use this same technique when you are actually going through the procedure.

And when you’ve made it through the procedure, make sure you have a plan to celebrate your success! You might not be able to cope exactly the way you wanted, but you still made it through! Remind yourself that you made it, think about what you can use again for your next procedure, and about what you might do differently.

Practice tips

  • Imagine everything as clearly as you can.
  • While you are imagining each part of the rehearsal, let your body relax.
  • Keep picturing the scene and do your relaxation exercises – belly breathing and mini-relaxation.
  • If a fearful thought comes to mind, it’s ok. It is important to recognize that this thought is there. You can even use some of the techniques you learned before such as recognizing which beliefs may be unrealistic.

Exercise: Your chance to check out behaviour rehearsal

  1. Think of a situation that you would like to rehearse.
  2. Try breaking that situation down into three or four steps that you can practice.
  3. When you go through the situation and think back on it, ask yourself the questions below and write your answers in a journal or notes app.
    • What went well for you or what helped?
    • What didn’t go as well or what would you change next time?
    • What are you going to do to celebrate the success you had with your goal?
Last updated: September 3rd 2019