Stress disturbs more than your mind. It may also take a physical toll on your body and overall health. When you feel stressed or anxious, it causes your muscles to tense. This muscle tension may lead to ongoing stress and discomfort. Fortunately, you can help ease both the mental and physical discomfort caused by stress with progressive muscle relaxation.
Learn all about progressive muscle relaxation techniques below — and how they can potentially help you better manage anxiety.
What Is Progressive Muscle Relaxation?
Progressive muscle relaxation is a deep relaxation technique designed to help decrease stress by tightening a specific muscle and then releasing it. This focused relaxation may help train your body and mind to recognize and potentially ease physical tension.1
How Do Relaxation Techniques Work?
Emotional stress and anxiety may cause the body to tense. Tension in the muscle then sends signals of stress to the brain — which may then cause additional physical sensations of stress. This can become an ongoing cycle of tension in the body and anxiety in the mind.2
Progressive relaxation exercises might help break this loop. Tensing a specific muscle for a few seconds draws your attention and focus to this area. As you breathe out and release, you train the body to release tension, rather than to hold on to it. This release of tension may ultimately lead to a greater sense of physical ease throughout the mind and body.3
Potential Benefits Of Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Stress can be hard to avoid in everyday life. But, with the right relaxation techniques, you may develop tools to counteract the effects of stress. This is important because stress can have a negative impact on your mental and physical health.4
Reducing stress not only helps brighten your mood — it may also help to support your overall physical well-being.5 That’s why relaxation training like progressive muscle relaxation is so important to your total body health. Learn about the specific health benefits below.
Better Sleep Quality
Progressive muscle relaxation techniques may help with poor sleep quality. Evidence shows that reduced anxiety from progressive relaxation exercises may increase relaxation, helping to increase sleep time and quality.6
Support A More Comfortable Lower Back And Neck
Consistent progressive muscle relaxation exercises may also help limit lower back discomfort as well as nonspecific neck pain.7,8
Support Healthy Blood Pressure
One study showed that consistent progressive muscle relaxation helped support systolic blood pressure for people with hypertension. Supporting heart health may help support healthy blood pressure levels, too.9
Progressive Muscle Relaxation Prep
Proper progressive muscle relaxation techniques require you to focus and relax. So, take a moment to prepare yourself by following some of the tips below.
Do a systematic review of your body. Where do you feel anxiety symptoms, signals of stress, or discomfort? Maybe your shoulders are bothering you, or your lower back? When you contract these areas during the exercise, pay special attention to how they feel when you relax. This can help your body build awareness and improve how it responds to tension in the future.10
Muscle Relaxation Audio
Once you have a plan, record the steps and points of focus on your phone. Play this muscle relaxation audio back to yourself during your progressive muscle relaxation session, so you don’t have to keep looking at the screen. This may allow for more focused relaxation.11
Choose Comfortable Surroundings
Seat yourself in a comfortable chair in a quiet, calm space that will help you to focus and relax. Minimize sounds or other distractions, like phones or TV’s, so you can focus on your body and breath.12
Relax With Sounds Or Images
Relaxation is key, so do whatever you need to get in the proper headspace. Tony Horton recommends using a soothing soundtrack and peaceful imagery for a relaxation boost. Check out his Instagram post for a tailored set of relaxing music and peaceful imagery.
General Progressive Muscle Relaxation Sequence
Take note of these general, progressive muscle relaxation techniques before you begin:
- Take deep breaths, then tense the muscles for about 10 seconds.
- Make the muscles tight, but not to the point that you feel pain or risk cramping.
- Breathe out as you release the tension and relax completely.
- Pause and relax for 5-10 seconds before moving onto the next muscle.13
Note: Consult a health professional before attempting progressive muscle relaxation therapy, particularly if you have any muscle injuries.
Step-By-Step Muscle Guide
Here are a few deep muscle relaxation exercises to get you started. Try this progression out, and feel free to add other muscles of the body to your routine.
Shoulders And Neck
Some people carry stress in the neck or shoulders. This is a great place to start.
- Focus on your neck and shoulders.
- Tense the muscles by shrugging your shoulders toward your ears.
- Hold for a few moments, then relax.
- Repeat, and take a moment to notice the difference between the relaxed muscles and the tense muscles.14
Abs And Stomach
Move down the body from the shoulders to your stomach and abdomen.
- Focus on your ab muscles.
- Gently tighten the muscles of your stomach. Hold for a few seconds, release, and relax.
- Reflect on the changes between tense and relaxed muscles.15
This is another common trouble area. Work the legs and feet to help relax your lower half.
- Focus on your feet.
- To tense the muscles, point your feet and curl the toes inward.
- Hold the tension, and then relax. Repeat.16
Work Other Common Muscles
Try out your new relaxation techniques on some other common areas of the body. Follow the guidelines above for each:
Progressive Relaxation Exercise For The Body And Mind
The body is an amazing tool that you can use to help support your health. Equipped with nothing more than your breath and focus, you can use deep muscle relaxation techniques to help ease stress and tension. This may lead to all sorts of health benefits, such as improvement in sleep, pain relief, and increased relaxation. So, take a few moments today to give it a try.18 However, if your muscle pain is severe, or if you have any previous injury, talk to your doctor about whether this technique is right for you.