Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a stretching, meditation, and muscle relaxation technique wrapped up into one simple practice. Though it can benefit many systems, this practice, first introduced by American physician Edmund Jacobson in the 1930s, is primarily used as an anxiety-reduction technique. It is a way to relieve tension in your body, help reduce stress and anxiety, and soothe aching muscles, without any medication or equipment. PMR utilizes mindful tensing of the muscles and breathing patterns to loosen tight muscles and make you realize areas of stress and pain in each of your muscle groups.
How PMR can help with anxiety
Anxiety is a common issue that plagues millions of people every day. PMR is especially beneficial in targeting the physical manifestations of anxiety and keeping your brain and body in sync. Remember, this is effective only for mild to moderate social anxiety. If you have a more severe case, you should consult with your doctor or mental health profession on other avenues of effective treatment.
Other benefits of PMR
- Limits stress
- Reduce insomnia
- Prevent headaches
- Lower high blood pressure
How to practice progressive muscle relaxation:
- Lie down on a comfortable surface such as a carpeted floor, close your eyes, and stretch out your limbs, hands loosely at your sides. You should wear loose, comfortable clothing to help you focus and keep you from being distracted.
- Then inhale and contract a single muscle group in your body. Hold this while inhaling for 5 to 10 seconds and then release the tension all at once. It may be helpful to use an audio recording to help guide you through all of the muscle groups until you learn them from memory. If you don’t want to follow an audio guide, simply let your muscles direct you to areas of acute tension. You should be able to feel the stress flowing out of your body.
- Recover for about 10-20 seconds by letting everything relax and then move to the next muscle group. Repeat until you have worked your way through every muscle group in your body.
- Use mental imagery of things contracting and releasing to help visualize the actions in your muscles. It may also be helpful to use a recurring 10-second timer that you don’t have to start or stop when you first begin the practice of progressive muscle relaxation. This will allow you to focus on the muscles and not on counting. After a while, you may not need the timer anymore, but it is a helpful tool when you are just starting out.
- Once you have finished (it should take about 15-20 minutes to get through your entire body) count backward from 5 to refocus your mind on the present and center yourself.
An overview of the muscle groups and what to do in each:
Just in case you would prefer to practice PMR on your own without a recording, it is important that you understand the muscle groups and memorize what you need to do with each.
- Hands – Clench them.
- 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.
- 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.)
Remember, you don’t have to be at home or even lying down to practice PMR. When you are feeling stressed or anxious, at work or in an uncomfortable situation, simply find a moment to close your eyes and tighten and relase any muscle groups you can while you are standing up.