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Stress Reducing Interventions


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Stress Intervention – Progressive Muscle Relaxation

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 groupWhat to do
HandsClench them.
Wrists and forearmsExtend them, and bend your hands back at the wrist.
Biceps and upper armsClench your hands into fists, bend your arms at the elbows, and flex your biceps.
ShouldersShrug them (raise toward your ears).
ForeheadWrinkle it into a deep frown.
Around the eyes and bridge of the noseClose your eyes as tightly as you can. (Remove contact lenses before you start the exercise.)
Cheeks and jawsSmile as widely as you can.
Around the mouthPress your lips together tightly. (Check your face for tension. You just want to use your lips.)
Back of the neckPress the back of your head against the floor or chair.
Front of the neckTouch your chin to your chest. (Try not to create tension in your neck and head.)
ChestTake a deep breath, and hold it for 4 to 10 seconds.
BackArch your back up and away from the floor or chair.
StomachSuck it into a tight knot. (Check your chest and stomach for tension.)
Hips and buttocksPress your buttocks together tightly.
ThighsClench them hard.
Lower legsPoint 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 Psychol75(1), 18.
  • **Bernstein, D. A., & Borkovec, T. D. (1973). Progressive relaxation training: A manual for the helping professions.