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From Tension to Tranquility: The Art of Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Updated: Jun 14, 2023


When we experience fear and anxiety, our bodies often respond with muscle tension. This can manifest as a feeling of being "tense" and can even cause muscle aches, pains, and fatigue. Consider how you personally react to anxiety. Do you find yourself tensing up during anxious moments? In such cases, muscle relaxation can be particularly beneficial.


Anxiety can make people feel constantly tense, and sometimes they don't even know what it's like to be truly relaxed. But with practice, you can learn to tell the difference between a tense muscle and a completely relaxed muscle. Then, you can start noticing when your muscles start to get tense due to anxiety and quickly bring back the feeling of relaxation. By tightening and then releasing your muscles, you get familiar with what it feels like to be relaxed and can catch yourself getting tense during the day.


This blog introduces a popular technique called "Progressive Muscle Relaxation" aimed at alleviating muscle tension associated with anxiety. It will walk you through step-by-step instructions on how to effectively reduce muscle tension and find relief.

 

What is Progressive Muscle Relaxation?


Muscle tension is a common occurrence when we experience stress, anxiety, and fear. It is a natural bodily response that prepares us for potentially dangerous situations, even if the situations themselves may not be truly dangerous. Sometimes, we may not even realize how our muscles become tense. Perhaps you've noticed a slight clenching of your teeth, causing your jaw to feel tight, or maybe your shoulders become stiff. Muscle tension can also lead to backaches and tension headaches.


To combat muscle tension, many people have found a technique called Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) helpful. This exercise involves intentionally tensing and relaxing specific muscle groups, followed by consistent practice.


Preparing for Relaxation


Before you begin practicing Progressive Muscle Relaxation exercises, it's important to keep the following points in mind:

  • Physical injuries: If you have any injuries or a history of physical problems that may cause muscle pain, it's always advisable to consult your doctor before starting PMR.

  • Select your surroundings: Minimize distractions to your senses by turning off the TV and radio and using soft lighting.

  • Make yourself comfortable: Choose a chair that provides proper support for your body, including your head. Wear loose clothing and remove your shoes.

  • Internal mechanics: Avoid practicing PMR after heavy meals or consuming any intoxicants, such as alcohol.

 

General Procedure


Set aside dedicated time and find a peaceful place to relax. Slow down your breathing and give yourself permission to relax.


When you're ready to begin, tense the specified muscle group. Make sure you can feel the tension, but not to the point of experiencing significant pain. Hold the tension for approximately 5 seconds.

Relax the muscles completely and maintain this state of relaxation for approximately 10 seconds. You may find it helpful to say a word like "Relax" as you release the muscle tension.


After completing the relaxation procedure for each muscle group, remain seated for a few moments, allowing yourself to become fully alert.


Relaxation Sequence:


To guide you through the Progressive Muscle Relaxation exercise, here is an example of a sequence:

  • Right Hand and Forearm: Make a fist with your right hand.

  • Forehead: Raise your eyebrows as high as possible, mimicking a surprised expression.

  • Mouth and Jaw: Open your mouth wide, as if you were yawning.

  • Shoulder Blades/Back: Push your shoulder blades back, attempting to bring them close together and thrusting your chest forward.

  • Chest and Stomach: Take a deep breath, filling your lungs and chest with air.

  • Hips and Buttocks: Squeeze your buttock muscles.

  • Right Upper Leg: Tighten your right thigh muscles.

  • Right Foot: Curl your toes downward.

  • Left Lower Leg: Repeat the procedure as for the right lower leg.

  • Left Foot: Repeat the procedure as for the right foot.


Practice for Progress


Remember, progress comes with practice. Only through consistent practice can you become more aware of your muscles, with tension, and how you can effectively relax them. Training your body to respond differently to stress is similar to any form of training – consistent practice is the key.


By regularly engaging in Progressive Muscle Relaxation, you can start to feel several benefits.

  • A heightened sense of self-awareness; allowing you to recognize muscle tension patterns and intervene before they escalate.

  • The practice enables you to consciously release tension from specific muscle groups, leading to a greater sense of overall relaxation and relief.

  • Reduced symptoms associated with anxiety and stress, such as headaches, muscle aches, and fatigue.


Routine:


To maximize the effectiveness of your PMR practice, it's important to establish a routine and dedicate time to it regularly. Aim for at least two to three sessions per week, gradually increasing the duration as you become more comfortable with the exercises. You may find it beneficial to set a calm atmosphere by playing soothing music, dimming the lights, or using aromatherapy.


As you progress in your PMR journey, remember to listen to your body and adjust the exercises according to your comfort level. Everyone's experience may vary, and it's essential to respect your body's limits. If you have any pre-existing medical conditions or concerns, consult with your healthcare provider before incorporating Progressive Muscle Relaxation into your routine.


In addition to practicing PMR, it can be helpful to explore other relaxation techniques that complement and enhance your overall well-being. Deep breathing exercises, meditation, and gentle stretching can work synergistically with Progressive Muscle Relaxation to promote a profound sense of calm and relaxation throughout your body.

 

Psychotherapy can support the practice of Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) by providing education, individualized guidance, progress monitoring, addressing underlying issues, integrating coping strategies, and offering emotional support.


Remember, overcoming muscle tension and reducing the impact of stress and anxiety takes time and patience. Be kind to yourself throughout this process, and celebrate even the smallest victories. With consistent practice, you can use the technique of Progressive Muscle Relaxation to reduce anxiety and have a greater sense of relaxation, well-being, and resilience in your daily life.


Start incorporating Progressive Muscle Relaxation into your routine and embrace the powerful benefits it can bring to your mind, body, and spirit!


References:

 

About The Author

Natasha Filntissis is a recent graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Western University. She is a passionate advocate for mental health, & believes in the importance of taking care of one's physical and mental well-being. In addition to her academics, Natasha was also a former semi-professional soccer player. Her favourite self-care activities include journaling, practicing yoga, and working out. Currently, she is working with children with Autism in 1:1 and group settings. Natasha intends to pursue a Masters degree, & her ultimate goal is to inspire and educate others about the value of mental health and self-care to lead a fulfilling life.


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