When stress (read more about stress) or anxiety (read more about anxiety disorders) has you feeling tied up in knots, jittery or unable to fall asleep, you can lower your mental tension by using a physical technique-progressive muscle relaxation.
This method enables you to lower your body’s stress response and calm your spirits by identifying and releasing tension in your muscles.
You can practice progressive muscle relaxation in any quiet space. Sit or lie down (on your back or side) in a comfortable position. But, be warned—if you do progressive muscle relaxation exercises in bed, you may fall asleep before finishing a full cycle!
Take off your shoes before beginning. Loosen tight clothing.
To use this technique, you will be tensing a muscle or group of muscles by tightening or squeezing them firmly. Hold that tension, then release quickly and relax. Notice the difference between how the muscles feel when they are tense and when they are relaxed.
- Begin either at the top of your body, with your eyebrows, or at the bottom, with the toes and foot on your left or right side.
- Inhale and focus on the individual muscle group as you tighten it. To tighten your foot, curl your toes in; for your hand, make a tight fist; for your eyebrows, raise them as high as they’ll go.
- Hold that squeeze for about five seconds.
- Release and relax for about 30 seconds. If you have time, you may want to repeat each tension/release twice.
- Wherever you began your exercise, continue from that point downward (or upward) so that your muscles are tensed and relaxed in order.
- Do one foot (or hand) at a time. After completing the entire leg (or arm), then switch to the other side.
- Continue with abdomen, chest, neck/shoulders and face.
- After you’ve finished, breathe slowly and deeply a few times. As you exhale, release any remaining tension. Enjoy the relaxed feeling for a minute or two before getting up.