Have you ever had an aching back or pain in your neck when you were anxious or stressed? When you have anxiety or stress in your life, one of the ways your body responds is with muscle tension. Progressive muscle relaxation is a method that helps relieve that tension.
- In progressive muscle relaxation, you tense a group of muscles as you breathe in, and you relax them as you breathe out. You work on your muscle groups in a certain order.
- When your body is physically relaxed, you cannot feel anxious.
- When you first start, it helps to use an audio recording until you learn all the muscle groups in order.
- If you have trouble falling asleep, this method may also help with your sleep problems.
The muscle groups
The following is a list of the muscle groups in order and how to tense them.
|Muscle group||What to do|
|Wrists and forearms||Extend them, and bend your hands back at the wrist.|
|Biceps and upper arms||Clench your hands into fists, bend your arms at the elbows, and flex your biceps.|
|Shoulders||Shrug them (raise toward your ears).|
|Forehead||Wrinkle it into a deep frown.|
|Around the eyes and bridge of the nose||Close your eyes as tightly as you can. (Remove contact lenses before you start the exercise.)|
|Cheeks and jaws||Smile as widely as you can.|
|Around the mouth||Press your lips together tightly. (Check your face for tension. You just want to use your lips.)|
|Back of the neck||Press the back of your head against the floor or chair.|
|Front of the neck||Touch your chin to your chest. (Try not to create tension in your neck and head.)|
|Chest||Take a deep breath, and hold it for 4 to 10 seconds.|
|Back||Arch your back up and away from the floor or chair.|
|Stomach||Suck it into a tight knot. (Check your chest and stomach for tension.)|
|Hips and buttocks||Press your buttocks together tightly.|
|Thighs||Clench them hard.|
|Lower legs||Point your toes toward your face. Then point your toes away, and curl them downward at the same time. (Check the area from your waist down for tension.)|
Progressive Muscle Relaxation was initially conceived in 1938*. It was designed to induce feelings of relaxation by way of systematically tensing and relaxing 16 muscle groups. This systematic process of tensing and relaxing, whilst guided, allows you to focus on and discriminate between the resulting sensations of tension and relaxation**.
By becoming aware of how your body reacts to tension and relaxation can help you become aware of how your ‘physical’ stress contributes to your ‘emotional’ state. These techniques will simultaneously alleviate your stress.
- Anspaugh DJ, et al. (2011). Coping with and managing stress. In Wellness: Concepts and Applications, 8th ed., pp. 307–340. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Freeman L (2009). Meditation. In L Freeman, ed., Mosby’s Complementary and Alternative Medicine: A Research-Based Approach, 3rd ed., pp. 158–188. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.
- Freeman L (2009). Relaxation therapy. In Mosby’s Complementary and Alternative Medicine: A Research-Based Approach, 3rd ed., pp. 129–157. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.
- *Jacobson, E. (1938). Progressive muscle relaxation. J Abnorm Psychol, 75(1), 18.
- **Bernstein, D. A., & Borkovec, T. D. (1973). Progressive relaxation training: A manual for the helping professions.