How to Relax – Progressive Muscular Relaxation

People with anxiety difficulties are often so tense throughout the day that they don’t even recognize what being relaxed feels like.   Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a scientifically proven way to help you relax and to teach your body how to recognise the signs of stress, tension and anxiety.

Do it regularly (try once a day at the start) and it can help you:

  1. re-calibrate your body back down to zero tension
  2. prevent a stress reaction to stressful life situations
  3. learn to notice the early warning signs of tension so you can nip them in the bud

Or, alternatively, you can use it on an ad-hoc basis to help relax during stressful times, help you get to sleep, or help you recover after a particularly bad time.

Tips:

  • Set aside about 15 minutes to complete this exercise.
  • Find a place where you can complete this exercise without being disturbed.
  • You do not need to be feeling anxious when you practise this exercise. In fact, it is better to first practice it when you are calm.
  • Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit, then close your eyes and let your body go loose. A reclining armchair is ideal. You can lie down, but this will increase your chances of falling asleep.
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing, and don’t forget to remove your shoes.
  • Take about five slow, deep breaths before you begin.

How To Do It

You will be systematically tensing and then relaxing each muscles group in your body, one by one.  here’s how to do it.

TENSE YOUR MUSCLE

The first step is applying muscle tension to a specific part of the body. First, focus on the target muscle group, for example, your left hand. Next, take a slow, deep breath and squeeze the muscles as hard as you can for about 5 seconds. It is important to really feel the tension in the muscles, which may even cause a bit of discomfort or shaking. In this instance, you would be making a tight fist with your left hand. It is easy to accidentally tense other surrounding muscles (for example, the shoulder or arm), so try to ONLY tense the muscles you are targeting. Take care not to hurt yourself while tensing your muscles. You should never feel intense or shooting pain while completing this exercise. Make the muscle tension deliberate, yet gentle. If you have problems with pulled muscles, broken bones, or any medical issues that would hinder physical activity, consult your doctor first.

RELAX YOUR MUSCLE

This step involves quickly relaxing the tensed muscles. After about 5 seconds, let all the tightness flow out of the tensed muscles. Exhale as you do this step. You should feel the muscles become loose and limp, as the tension flows out. It is important to very deliberately focus on and notice the difference between the tension and relaxation. This is the most important part of the whole exercise. Remain in this relaxed state for about 15 seconds, and then move on to the next muscle group. Repeat the tension-relaxation steps. After completing all of the muscle groups, take some time to enjoy the deep state of relaxation.

THE MUSCLES TO TENSE

During this exercise, you will be working with almost all the major muscle groups in your body. To make it easier to remember, start with your feet and systematically move up (or if you prefer, you can do it in the reverse order, from your forehead down to your feet).

  1. Foot (curl your toes downward)
  2. Lower leg and foot (tighten your calf muscle by pulling toes towards you)
  3. Entire leg (squeeze thigh muscles while doing above) (Repeat on other side of body)
  4. Hand (clench your fist)
  5. Entire right arm (tighten your biceps by drawing your forearm up towards your shoulder and “make a muscle”, while clenching fist) (Repeat on other side of body)
  6. Buttocks (tighten by pulling your buttocks together)
  7. Stomach (suck your stomach in)
  8. Chest (tighten by taking a deep breath)
  9. Neck and shoulders (raise your shoulders up to touch your ears)
  10. Mouth (open your mouth wide enough to stretch the hinges of your jaw)
  11. Eyes (clench your eyelids tightly shut)
  12. Forehead (raise your eyebrows as far as you can)

THE SHORT VERSION

Once you have become familiar with the “tension and relaxation” technique, and have been practicing it for a couple weeks, you can begin to practise a very short version of progressive muscle relaxation. In this approach, you learn how to tense larger groups of muscles, which takes even less time. These muscle groups are:

  1. Lower limbs (feet and legs)
  2. Stomach and chest
  3. Arms, shoulders, and neck
  4. Face

So instead of working with just one specific muscle group at a time (e.g., your stomach), you can focus on the complete group (your stomach AND chest). You can start by focusing on your breathing during the tension and relaxation. When doing this shortened version, it can be helpful to say a certain word or phrase to yourself as you slowly exhale (such as “relax”, “let go”, “stay calm”, “peace” “it will pass” etc…). This word or phrase will become associated with a relaxed state; eventually, saying this word alone can bring on a calm feeling. This can be handy during times when it would be hard to take the time to go through all the steps of progressive muscle relaxation.

www.happii.uk is a website providing information about mental health and wellbeing.
Happii.uk is provided by Anna Batho, a therapist working in High Wycombe and providing therapy in Amersham and the wider Buckinghamshire (Bucks) region.
You can contact her here.

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