This day and age, stress is something that we all experience quite often. Whether we feel stressed out at school, at work, at home, or anywhere else, stress can easily build up over time. Before we know it, our muscles become tense. Worry not, this is where progressive muscle relaxation technique becomes handy! Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a deep relaxation technique that is mainly used to manage stress, anxiety, insomnia, and muscle tension.
PMRis based on the simple and specific practice of tensing or tightening one muscle group at a time, followed by a relaxation phase by releasing the tension. The purpose is to recognize what a tensed muscle and a relaxed muscle feels like, so that when you begin to become tense due to stress or anxiety, you will realize it quicker and be able to control it and return to a relaxed state.
How does progressive muscle relaxation work, exactly? It’s pretty easy! First and foremost, you need to find a quiet place, free from any distractions. You can start by lying on your back or sitting down. Make sure to remove any glasses or contact lenses if you are wearing them. Loosen any tight clothing, too.
Next, take several slow, deep breaths. Let’s try doing PMR from the bottom part of your body: your feet. Take a deep breath, then pull your toes downward as much as you can to tighten the muscles around that area, and hold them for about five seconds. Afterwards, let go to release the tension. Exhale slowly as you do this step. You should feel your muscles become loose. Shift your focus on the difference between tension and relaxation; remember, it is necessary to notice how different tension and relaxation feels. Remain in this relaxed state for about 15 seconds before working on the next muscle group.
Moving on to the next muscle group: your calves. Squeeze your calf muscles as hard as you can and hold for another five seconds before releasing the tension. Stay relaxed for 15 seconds, then work on your knees and thighs by moving your knees toward each other and squeezing your thigh muscles for five seconds. Like you’ve done before, loosen your muscles afterwards.
The steps are basically the same with every muscle group. You can work on your buttocks, arms, hands, shoulders, jaw, eyes, and eyebrows. With your hands, for example, you can tighten the muscles by clenching and unclenching your fists. With your shoulders, you can raise them toward your ears, and with your eyebrows, you can just raise them as far as you can. Of course, every session needs to end with a tension-release and relaxation.
Now that you get a hang of progressive muscle relaxation, let’s jump into how it can be beneficial in managing stress and anxiety. Progressive muscle relaxation has been proven to be effective in reducing symptoms or feelings of anxiety, depression, stress, and anger. By practicing PMR often, you will learn what relaxation feels like, enabling you to recognize whenever you start to get tense during the day. Progressive muscle relaxation can also improve your sleep and eases neck pain, because it induces relaxation.
But that’s not all! PMR helps decrease the frequency of migraine episodes as well, and it does so by balancing your serotonin levels. Furthermore, a high level of stress might lead to the clenching of jaw or grinding of teeth, which may cause you to develop a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder. TMJ is the joint that connects your lower jaw (mandible) to your skull, and a temporomandibular joint disorder may cause facial pain, tenderness at the joint, and trouble in moving the joint. Through a consistent practice of progressive muscle relaxation, tension or stress levels can be reduced and TMJ disorder symptoms will be alleviated.
Progressive muscle relaxation is a simple practice, yet it turns out to have many benefits! So, if your days are filled with fast-paced activities, or if you tend to get stressed a lot, we recommend you to set aside some quiet time to do the PMR method regularly as one way to improve or maintain your overall well-being. Your body, and your mind, will definitely thank you!