A Little-Known Stress-Buster: Progressive Muscle Relaxation
When I’m feeling stressed or anxious, my go-to remedies probably look a lot like yours. Meditation, scenic walks, and CBD are all tried-and-true methods that work wonders. But sometimes it’s nice to mix it up.
If you’re looking for a new and simple way to combat stress, then you’re in the right place! We’re going to discuss a lesser-known relaxation technique: progressive muscle relaxation.
What is progressive muscle relaxation?
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a process that involves systematically tensing and releasing muscles in the body.
PMR is a mindful practice based on the idea that physical relaxation and mental relaxation are connected. When you’re physically relaxed, your mind becomes relaxed as well.
PMR is sometimes referred to as Jacobson’s relaxation technique after its creator, physician Edmund Jacobson.
Jacobson found that you can increase the feeling of relaxation by tensing the muscle before releasing it.
It’s like entering a pool. Imagine you’ve just arrived and you’re ready to dive in. The water will be pretty cold, right? But what if you spend some time in the hot tub first? When you move to the pool, it’ll feel like stepping into ice water. You’ll feel the effects much more strongly when you go from one extreme to the other, rather than starting at a neutral state. It’s the same for PMR.
Additionally, we often hold tension in our bodies that we’re not even aware of. PMR teaches you how to recognize that tension so you can let it go.
Progressive muscle relaxation and stress relief
One of the main benefits of PMR is its ability to lower stress, anxiety, and depression.
A 2019 study had a group of people with anxiety disorders take part in an 8-week PMR program. After the program, they had reduced levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. They also demonstrated improved scores in quality of life and overall wellbeing!
PMR can help with situational anxiety too. In 2020, a study was done on COVID-19 patients suffering from anxiety because of the illness. After 30 minutes of PMR daily for 5 days, they saw significant improvement in their anxiety symptoms.
Tip: How to Relieve Stress Quickly
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Sounds great! So how do I do it?
Progressive muscle relaxation is a safe and easy technique you can follow anywhere at any time. A quiet place and comfy clothes would be ideal, but all you really need is 15 minutes and somewhere to sit.
When following the steps, tense each muscle group one at a time and hold for 5 seconds. Breathe out and relax your muscles completely for 10 to 20 seconds. When you let go of the hold, do it suddenly. Notice how your muscles felt while tensed vs. how they feel when relaxed. Then move to the next muscle group.
1. Lie down or sit in a comfortable place. Take five deep, slow breaths.
2. Hands: Clench your hands.
3. Forearms: Extend your arms and bend your hands up at the wrists.
4. Biceps: Tense your biceps.
5. Shoulders: Lift your shoulders to your ears.
6. Forehead: Raise your eyebrows.
7. Eyes: Squeeze your eyes shut.
8. Cheeks: Smile as wide as you can.
9. Mouth: Purse your lips together.
10. Neck (back): Press the back of your head against the floor or chair.
11. Neck (front): Touch your chin to your chest.
12. Chest: Inhale and tighten your chest.
13. Back: Arch your back away from the floor or chair.
14. Stomach: Suck in your stomach.
15. Buttocks: Clench your buttocks.
16. Thighs: Tighten your thighs.
17. Lower legs (back): Raise your toes toward your head.
18. Lower legs (front): Point your toes downward.
Progressive muscle relaxation can be hard at first. It will get easier the more you do it, so don’t give up! Here are some tips that may help you.
• Do your first sessions when you’re already relaxed. This will make it easier to learn. This way, you’ll be ready when you’re stressed.
• Try to find a quiet place with no distractions.
• Find a guided audio recording to listen to. You’ll be able to follow the steps without having to worry about remembering them or counting on your own. There are plenty of free recordings on YouTube, as well as independent wellness apps and websites.
• You can move through each muscle group in any order you want. For example, you can start at your toes and move up.
• If there’s a muscle group that’s especially tense, feel free to repeat the process.
Other benefits of progressive muscle relaxation
Stress isn’t the only thing PMR can help with! Here are just a few more research-backed benefits that come with regular PMR practice.
May improve sleep quality
Anxiety often leads to tossing and turning in bed. It goes without saying that when you’re relaxed, you get better sleep.
In a 2020 study, participants with poor sleep quality did PMR for 20 to 30 minutes a day. Results showed that they had better quality sleep after just 3 days!
May reduce chronic pain
Because PMR involves releasing muscle tension, it’s no surprise that it helps reduce pain. Stress is a common cause of muscle tension, so by reducing stress you can also reduce chronic pain not caused by injury.
A study done in 2013 showed that patients with chronic non-specific neck pain experienced significantly less pain after doing PMR twice weekly for 12 weeks.
A 2018 study revealed that after 8 weeks of PMR, chronic non-specific low back pain decreased in patients.
May help prevent migraines
Anyone who’s experienced a migraine knows how much they suck. Migraines are intense headaches that are sometimes accompanied by other symptoms like nausea. They can last for several days.
Migraines are still a bit of a mystery to doctors and researchers, but one 2016 study showed promising results. Researchers discovered that 6 weeks of PMR led to a significant reduction in migraine frequency.
With regular progressive muscle relaxation sessions, you’ll feel more relaxed physically and mentally. PMR can help ease symptoms of anxiety and depression. You may also get benefits like improved sleep, reduced pain, and fewer migraines.
Progressive muscle relaxation is a great natural stress-busting technique to add to your toolbox. It’s simple enough that you can do it anywhere with no special equipment, so give it a try!
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