Have you ever had an aching back or
pain in your neck when you were anxious or stressed? When you have anxiety or
stress in your life, one of the ways your body responds is with muscle tension.
Progressive muscle relaxation is a method that helps relieve that
- In progressive muscle relaxation, you tense a
group of muscles as you breathe in, and you relax them as you breathe out. You
work on your muscle groups in a certain order.
- When your body is physically relaxed, you cannot feel anxious. Practicing progressive muscle relaxation for a few weeks will help you get better at this skill, and in time you will be able to use this method to relieve stress.
- When you first
start, it may help to use an audio recording until you learn all the muscle
groups in order. Check your local library or a bookstore for progressive muscle
relaxation audio recordings.
- If you have trouble falling asleep,
this method may also help with your sleep problems.
How do you do progressive muscle relaxation?
You can use an audio recording to
help you focus on each muscle group, or you can learn the order of muscle
groups and do the exercises from memory. Choose a place where you won't be
interrupted and where you can lie down on your back and stretch out
comfortably, such as a carpeted floor.
- Breathe in, and tense the first muscle group
(hard but not to the point of pain or cramping) for 4 to 10
- Breathe out, and suddenly and completely relax the muscle
group (do not relax it gradually).
- Relax for 10 to 20 seconds
before you work on the next muscle group. Notice the difference between how the muscles feel when they are tense and how they feel when they are relaxed.
- When you are finished
with all of the muscle groups, count backward from 5 to 1 to bring your focus
back to the present.
After you have learned how to tense and relax each muscle
group, here's something else to try. When you have a very tense muscle, you can
practice tensing and relaxing that muscle area without going through the whole
The muscle groups
following is a list of the muscle groups in order and how to tense them.
Remember to lie down when you do this.
What to do
Extend them, and
bend your hands back at the wrist.
and upper arms
your hands into fists, bend your arms at the elbows, and flex your biceps.
Shrug them (raise
toward your ears).
Wrinkle it into a
Around the eyes and
bridge of the nose
Close your eyes as
tightly as you can. (Remove contact lenses before you start the
Cheeks and jaws
Smile as widely as
Press your lips
together tightly. (Check your face for tension. You just want to use your
Back of the neck
Press the back of
your head against the floor or chair.
Front of the
Touch your chin to
your chest. (Try not to create tension in your neck and head.)
Take a deep breath,
and hold it for 4 to 10 seconds.
Arch your back up
and away from the floor or chair.
Suck it into a tight
knot. (Check your chest and stomach for tension.)
Press your buttocks
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.)
Return to Stress Management: Doing Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Other Works Consulted
Anspaugh DJ, et al. (2011). Coping with and managing stress. In Wellness: Concepts and Applications, 8th ed., pp. 307–340. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Freeman L (2009). Meditation. In L Freeman, ed., Mosby’s Complementary and Alternative Medicine: A Research-Based Approach, 3rd ed., pp. 158–188. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.
Freeman L (2009). Relaxation therapy. In Mosby's Complementary and Alternative Medicine: A Research-Based Approach, 3rd ed., pp. 129–157. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.