We all get stressed. It’s a normal part of life. However, if you feel anxious or stressed over a period of time, the tension can store in your muscles, creating sharp pain. Thankfully, there are a few ways to release this discomfort. In this article, you’ll learn how to do progressive muscle relaxation, the technique that will help you relax your muscles and release stress…at the same time!
What Is Progressive Muscle Relaxation?
First introduced by American physician Edmund Jacobson in the 1920s, progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that involves alternating your muscle groups. By tensing one muscle group at a time and releasing it, Jacobson discovered the mind relaxes simultaneously. It works by switching off your fight-or-flight response and activating your relaxation response to reduce stress hormones and promote peace. Indeed it directs your attention from your racing thoughts and problems to a feeling of letting go, allowing you to feel more balanced. So, whether you’re experiencing social anxiety or stress, this technique will become your new go-to to unwind.
What Are the Benefits of Progressive Muscle Relaxation?
As a form of body scan meditation, progressive muscle relaxation has several benefits that support your overall well-being.
- Anxiety and stress relief
- Improved sleep
- Lowered inflammation
- Enhanced digestion
- Improved mindset
- Blood pressure control
- Increased emotional regulation
- Allows the body to rest and restore
- Better concentration
- Improved clarity in decision making
- Blood sugar regulation
- Lowered pain levels
- Improved confidence in problem solving
- Relief from tension headaches and migraines
How to Do Progressive Muscle Relaxation
1. Adopt an open mind
The first step to learn how to do progressive muscle relaxation is to show up with an open mind. Like any other meditation, you may struggle to focus. But the point is to move slowly and to accept your effort. You’re learning a new skill that takes patience and consistency. So, rather than criticizing yourself and critiquing the process, allow time to adjust – doing the opposite will only add more stress.
2. Limit distractions
Now that you’ve started the process of self-acceptance, the next step is to find a quiet place. A quiet place is crucial to relaxing – especially in the beginning. A loud environment with too many distractions will only make it more challenging to switch off your stress response. Therefore, retreat to a quiet room that provides security and serenity.
3. Lay down
Next, get comfortable. Remove any restricting clothes and get into your favorite jammies or loungewear. Then, lie down on a comfortable bed or recline in a chair and rest your hands on your lap or the chair. But before we dive into the following steps, be forewarned you may fall asleep – it’s that effective, especially when you’re lying down!
4. Breathe deeply
After you’re comfy and ready to begin, take a few deep breaths in and out. To enhance the process, spend a few minutes practicing a breathing exercise for anxiety like diaphragmatic breathing, aka belly breathing. For example, place one hand on your belly and one on your chest. Next, take a deep breath through your nose and notice the rise and fall of your belly as you breathe out. In fact, throughout the process, whether you’re belly breathing or not, breathe deeply and slowly with each step. It will activate the relaxation response and lower your anxiety even more.
5. Release and relax
Finally, let’s begin the technique. Each muscle group will follow the same pattern – tense, hold for 15 seconds, and let go for 30 seconds.
- Starting with your toes, focus on tensing them, hold for 15 secs, and let go for 30 secs
- Next, tense your calves, hold and let go
- Then your knees and thighs follow the same pattern – tense, hold and let go
- Move your way up and squeeze your buttocks, hold, and let go
- Contract your ab muscles, hold, and let go
- Move to your hands…arms…and shoulders – hold, and let go
- Tense your neck – hold and let go
- Then start tensing your chest, hold and let go
- Finally, move to your facial muscles. With these muscle groups, clench your eyes, open your mouth, raise your eyebrows, and purse your lips – one by one, hold and let go.
Bonus tip – consider using visualization to enhance the experience and help you focus.
6. Follow a guided recording
As a beginner, it will be easier to follow a guided recording. A mental health expert or teacher will guide you through the process with relaxing music and a soothing voice. These added touches will create the perfect environment to ignore distractions and de-stress. Thankfully, there are several free online sessions to help you begin.
7. Practice consistently
Like any relaxing technique for anxiety, it is best practiced consistently. Of course, you’ll experience immediate relief but if you’re experiencing long-term anxiety, consider incorporating it into your routine. For example, morning anxiety and evening anxiety are both common. We tend to feel worse when we wake up or after a long day. Therefore, try to give yourself time to make it a priority and practice it a few times a week for the best results.
8. Combine with other techniques
If you’re struggling to manage your anxiety or stress, combine this technique with others. For example, incorporate it into a larger self-care package designed to be your coping mechanism when you feel really anxious or upset. Combining it with breathing exercises, other forms of meditation, exercise, proper nutrition, or social support will help you. But above all, if your anxiety is severe, work with a therapist or mental health professional. They will help you find the root cause of your anxiety and provide strategies to aid your healing long-term.
There you have it, the beginners guide that teaches you how to do progressive muscle relaxation. Whether you’re experiencing consistent stress or you’re experiencing an anxiety disorder, take a few moments and practice the steps in this article. It creates immediate relief and long-term rewards that enhance your physical and mental well-being.