Progressive muscle relaxation, also known as PMR, is a highly effective exercise for those suffering with stress and anxiety. It is a method of exercising that involves the tensing and releasing of muscles and is used to promote health and wellness for the mind and body.
It can have an enormous positive effect on the mind since the mind and body are so closely connected. PMR helps to break the negative cycle that stress and anxiety suffers find hard to break.
Stressful Thoughts = Tense Body
Tense Body = Stressful Thoughts
As with chronic stress and anxiety, muscle tension is a very common complaint. When stressed, it's not uncommon for us to develop a habit of tensing muscles. It's important to note that when muscles are tense for a prolonged period of time, they create a memory of staying that way. Many people with chronic stress and anxiety have an inability to physically relax their muscles because they have been tense for long. Their muscles just naturally stay tense out of habit.
Progressive muscle relaxation is a method that trains your muscles to return to their relaxed state. This particular method of stress management helps to break the habitual tension in the body, which if done enough, can bring the body back into a relaxed state.
With stress and anxiety, the mind has an important role with progressive muscle relaxation. By relaxing the muscles, you make it easier for your mind to follow the same path. By practicing this method you are benefiting your mind and body together.
How Does It Work?
When you take a muscle that is tense and apply more pressure to it for an specific period of time and then release that pressure, the muscle is left more relaxed than it was originally. This is a natural and scientific response. That's why PMR is effective and really works!
The idea of these exercises is to help you develop a positive habit of releasing tension by relaxing.
How Often Do You Need To Practice?
The more you practice progressive muscle relaxation the better you will become. It becomes easier with time, patience and practice! Practice as often as you can. Once a day is good but if you are trying to break free from anxiety and panic, I suggest a couple times a day. The more you do it, the more control you will have over your muscles and how much tension you will experience.
Helpful Tips Before Beginning PMR
Search For a Quiet Place - It's best to find a quiet place when practicing this method. You want to do this in a place where you will have no distractions.
Create Comfort - Make yourself as comfortable as possible. Wear comfortable, loose fitting clothing. Make sure the temperature of the room is comfortable (not too hot or cold). Your bed or a reclining chair is a good place to do these exercises.
Use Aromas that Relax - You can also use your favorite fragrances for added benefit. Pick a fragrance that makes you feel relaxed. By filling the room with an aroma that brings you peaceful feelings you will be enhancing your relaxation experience. Lavender is known for it's ability to promote relaxation. My absolute favorite thing to use is lavender soy candles. They burn long and clean and really do promote relaxation. Aromatherapy has long been used to reduce stress and promote relaxation.
Using Visualization with PMR - Use your mind when practicing progressive muscle relaxation. Both work well with each other. Visualize things that make you peaceful and relaxed. Close your eyes while doing PMR and visualize your most peaceful place. For more information visit Visualization Exercises.
Prepare for progressive muscle relaxation by concentrating on your muscles. See if you notice different areas that are more tense than others. We all have a favorite place that we keep our tension locked when we are stressed. For some it may be your jaw (resulting in TMJ), for others it may be the stomach (resulting in IBS and Colitis) and many others hold their tension in their neck, face or even their lower back. We are all different and have our own habits of handling stress.
You want to tense your muscles for 10-15 seconds each and then you want to relax the muscle as much as you can while saying "relax" as you let the muscles go.
You can start with any part of your body first. There is no particular order to do progressive muscle relaxation. However, I like to start at my head and work my way down to my feet so that I don't miss any body parts along the way.
If you notice you still have tension in different areas of your body, it is okay to repeat as often as necessary until you get the results you need in your muscles.
It's also important to take a cleansing, relaxing breath in between each muscle exercise. Take a deep breath, fill your lungs as much as you can, hold for 1 second and then slowly release the air.
PMR Example Steps
Face - Tighten cheeks, eyebrows, forehead by scrunching and tightening. Smiling as big as you can while tightening your eyes shut also works. Hold and then release.
Neck - Push your chin into your chest, hold and then release.
Shoulders - Push your shoulders as far back as you can, pushing against the bed/chair. Hold and then release.
Arms - Hold arms straight along side your body. With palms facing down, push against the bed as hard as you can. Hold and then release.
Hands - Make a fist as tight as you can. Hold and then release.
Stomach - Pull your stomach in as far as you can. Imagine pulling your belly button to your back. Hold and then release.
Buttocks - Tighten your buttocks, hold and then release.
Legs - With legs straight, push heels down into the bed, hold and then release.
Feet - Point toes firmly, hold and then release.
End your progressive muscle relaxation session with complete body relaxation. Try to relax your entire body as much as possible while focusing on your muscles. Think of yourself as a limp noodle that is just melting into your bed. As you focus on your muscles, say "relax" and try to let go of those muscles more each time.
This exercise helps to increase awareness and helps you get in touch with your body. Therefore, you may notice more often when your body tenses up at different times of the day. Having this awareness will allow you to take control of your muscles and keep them in a relaxed state.
Need More Help?
If you have a hard time learning progressive muscle relaxation on your own, I highly encourage the use of a high quality teaching DVD or CD.