In a stressful world, we all need tools to help us relax and reduce our anxiety. One of the best techniques for reducing anxiety is progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). You know it’s good because it has relaxation in the name.
PMR is an easy, relaxation technique that anyone can use when they feel anxious, stressed out, or have trouble falling asleep, like breathing exercises to reduce stress, visualization, and yoga. It’s helpful during moments of nervousness or high stress. It can even help someone get through a panic attack or anxiety.
Watch the video below, then read on to learn more about PMR.
History of PMR
The technique was developed by Edmund Jacobson, an American physician, in the 1920s. Jacobson noticed that no matter what their illness, most of his patients had muscle pain and tension. When he tried to get them to relax, he saw that most people weren’t connected enough to their muscle tension to be able to release it.
This intrigued Jacobson, and he developed a sequence of steps his patients could use that involved tightening and relaxing the muscles. Using this method, his patients not only became more aware of their tension, they learned how to relax each muscle group, and recognize what a relaxed state felt like. The technique has been modified over time, but all current variations are based on Jacobson’s technique of systematically tensing and releasing specific muscle groups.
How Does PMR Work?
PMR is effective because it helps you overcome a normal reaction to stress and anxiety, known as the flight-or-fight response. This is a reaction that helped us survive threats, either by fleeing to safety or staying to fight. This response has become a reaction to feelings of stress, anxiety, and fear that are often out of proportion with reality.
When it’s not needed for survival, this response can cause symptoms such as sweating, shaking, accelerated heart rate, and shortness of breath caused by stress hormones released by your body. In addition, tension, stiffness, and muscle pain are often caused by stress and anxiety. PMR and other relaxation techniques have the opposite effect, they cause the body to relax. The heart rate is lowered, the mind is calmed, and tension in the body is reduced. PMR can also help you notice how physical stress can affect your mental state. And how by relaxing your body, you may be able to release feelings of anxiety and stress.
To get a quick feel for how PMR works, make a fist with one of your hands and squeeze as tight as you can. Notice how your fingers and forearm feel tight and tense. Squeeze for a count of ten, and then release the tension. Notice how tight your forearm and fingers felt when they were clinched. Notice how relaxed they feel now.
Doing this in a methodical way, increasing and releasing tension in all the muscle groups in your body, is the foundation of the PMR system. By constricting and releasing various muscle groups throughout the body, it is possible to reduce physical stress and calm and quiet your mind.
Below is a version of PMR anyone can do. Give it a go the next time you’re feeling anxious, nervous, or find yourself unable to sleep.
Step 1: Get Comfortable
You don’t have to lie down, but you do need to be comfortable. You can be sitting up, sitting on the floor, or lying prone. Do find a time and place where you will be free from distractions. If you wish, you may close your eyes.
Step 2: Breathe
Bring your attention to your breath, inhaling deeply through the nose. Notice your abdomen rising as you breathe in. Slowly exhale through your mouth, pulling your navel into your spine. Repeat three to five times, until you are comfortable breathing in this manner.
Step 3: Begin with Your Feet
Beginning with your feet, tighten and release your muscles. Clench your toes while you press your heels into the ground. Squeeze for a few breaths and release. Now, flex and point your toes up towards your head. Hold for a few breaths and release.
Step 4: Work Your Way up Your Body
Continue tightening and releasing your muscles groups as you work your way up your body. The order should be legs, glutes, stomach, back, hands, arms, shoulders, neck, and face. The goal is to tighten each muscle group for a few breaths and slowly release the tension. Linger on any areas that feel especially stiff.
Step 5: Close the Session
Close the session with a few more deep breaths. Notice how relaxed and calm you feel.
Relaxing isn’t always easy, and it can take time and effort to master. Practice the technique when you aren’t under pressure so that you can use it when you are in a stressful or anxiety-inducing situation. Practice several times a week until you are familiar with what it feels like to be relaxed. This can help you more easily let go of tension and manage stress when anxiety arises.
A Note from GR8NESS
Please note that information on our website is not intended to diagnose, cure, or treat any medical condition. If you suffer from severe anxiety and stress, please speak with a healthcare professional. If you are under a doctor’s care, please check with them before you add anything new to your routine.