Have you ever been so stressed or anxious that you started to feel physically tense in areas of your body like your neck or shoulders? Stress and anxiety cause your body to tense up in the fight or flight response. Many times, you may be so stressed that you don’t even notice until you are in pain at the end of the day. If this happens to you, progressive muscle relaxation technique may be very helpful for you. Progressive muscle relaxation is a method that helps you release some of that tension bit by bit and learn not to store it as much. In turn, this helps calm your mind and better equips you to handle stressful situations.
Progressive muscle relaxation was developed by American physician Edmund Jacobson in 1939 and is a technique for learning to monitor and control the state of muscular tension in the body. In this technique, you sit quietly undisturbed much like meditation. Instead of just sitting still, however, you tense up a certain group of muscles as you inhale, and release all the tension as you exhale. You isolate certain muscle groups and work through them in order. This helps you get a good sense for what it feels like when your muscles are tense, and what it feels like when they are relaxed. You can tell the difference when you develop increased body awareness.
As you practice this technique over time, you start to feel it when your body is tensing and are able to focus on and relax your muscles. When your body is physically relaxed, you feel much less anxious or not anxious at all. This method is great for relieving stress and anxiety. It can also help people who struggle with insomnia who are holding too much tension and are unable to fall asleep. Practicing it for a few weeks every day gives noticeable results.
Learning to detect and release tension caused by stress and anxiety can help keep the issue from escalating. When a trigger appears for you and your shoulders start to tense up, you can breathe to release the tension in those muscles. This calms you down, takes your mind off the stressor for a little while, and helps you have a quicker comeback from your stress response back to normal. It interrupts the stress response and helps you return to normal faster. It can help you avoid falling into a downward spiral of more negative thoughts and anxiety. In turn, this keeps you much more balanced through stressful busy days.
Progressive relaxation is easy to practice at home. It helps to listen to a recording at first, but when you learn the order of the muscles you can do it with relaxing music or silence. One way to practice the technique is to start at your toes and work your way up to your head tensing every muscle for five seconds then relaxing for 30 seconds. Try to relax and if you are having some thoughts try not to respond by problem-solving, but by deeper relaxation.
This is a method for achieving deeper and more lasting relaxation to help with stress management. Many people have found it helpful and it remains popular with many physical therapists. With that being said, this technique is not meant to replace the advice of your doctor or mental health practitioner.
Ralitza Treneva is a wellness advocate and health writer. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Environmental Studies and Biology from DePaul University and is professionally trained in plant-based nutrition. She has worked as a nutritional consultant. She loves to explore the mind-body connection in her writing. She loves cooking healthy meals, doing yoga, and painting. She lives in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. In case you were wondering about her interesting name, she is originally from Bulgaria.