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Progressive Muscle Relaxation: My Secret Tool for Stress & Tension



Happy August, friends! I don’t know about you, but the beginning of the month always comes with a rush of new goals, new ideas, and new expectations…but also a boatload of stress. If you’re experiencing stress too, you‘re probably no stranger to headaches, muscle tension, TMJ pain, a racing heart, or sleep troubles. You may have been told to try Yoga, Qi Gong, or Tai chi to help you relax but let me put you on a simpler relaxation technique - Progressive Muscle Relaxation or PMR (and it’s great for kids too).


Let’s get into what PMR is, the various health benefits of PMR, a step-by-step guide, and additional resources for you!


What is progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)?


Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a relaxation technique that involves tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups in the body, one at a time, to help relieve muscle tension and promote relaxation. This technique uses the principles of neuronal “top-down” and “bottoms-up” processing. In “top-down” processing, we use our areas higher up in the nervous system like our cerebral cortex and cerebellum to contract muscles and then gradually release the tension. In “bottoms-up” processing, holding & releasing the tension produces body awareness from our muscles which then travels up the spinal cord and brainstem to our brain(1). ✨SCIENCE✨


The goal of PMR is to become more aware of the physical sensations of tension and relaxation in the body, and to learn how to intentionally release the tension and relax the muscles.


What are the health benefits of progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)?

Many new studies have looked into the science and benefits of PMR. Keep reading for a closer look at what the research has discovered about the benefits of PMR.


Alleviates muscle tension:

PMR can help reduce muscle tension, which can be particularly beneficial for people who experience tension headaches, neck pain, TMJ symptoms, or other physical symptoms related to muscle tension.


Lowers anxiety and stress:

PMR is a relaxation technique that can help reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. Regular practice of PMR can help individuals better cope with stressful situations and improve their overall sense of well-being.


Improves sleep:

PMR can help individuals relax and fall asleep more easily, improving the quality of their sleep.


Improves blood pressure:

Research has shown that PMR can help lower blood pressure, which can be beneficial for individuals with hypertension or other cardiovascular conditions.


Uplifts mood:

PMR can help improve mood by reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression, and promoting a sense of calm and relaxation.


Overall, regular practice of PMR can help improve both physical and mental health, and promote a greater sense of relaxation and well-being.


Your Step-by-Step Guide to Practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation At Home:

  1. Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit or lie down.

  2. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to relax.

  3. Begin by tensing the muscles in your feet and toes, and holding the tension for a few seconds.

  4. Release the tension in your feet and toes, and focus on the sensation of relaxation.

  5. Move up to your calves, tensing and then relaxing them.

  6. Move up to your thighs, tensing and then relaxing them.

  7. Continue to work your way up the body, tensing and then relaxing each muscle group, including the abdomen, chest, arms, shoulders, neck, and face.

  8. Take a few deep breaths and focus on the sensation of relaxation throughout your body.

  9. When you're ready, open your eyes and slowly return to your day.


Note: Be careful to not tense to the point of physical pain or discomfort and be mindful to take slow, deep belly breaths throughout the exercise. (2)


Where can I learn more about Progressive Muscle Relaxation?

There are several resources available online where you can learn more about progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) and how to practice it. Here are a few options:


  • Online articles: There are many articles available online that provide step-by-step instructions on how to practice PMR, along with tips and advice for getting the most out of the technique. Some popular health and wellness websites that offer articles on PMR include Healthline, Verywell Mind, and Mindful.

  • Mobile apps: There are several mobile apps available for both iOS and Android devices that can guide you through PMR exercises. Some popular options include Calm, Headspace, and Relax Melodies.

  • Books: There are several books available that provide detailed information about PMR, including the history of the technique, instructions for how to practice it, and tips for incorporating it into your daily routine. Some popular books on PMR include "The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook" by Martha Davis, Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, and Matthew McKay, and "Progressive Relaxation" by Edmund Jacobson.

  • YouTube videos: There are many YouTube videos available that provide guided PMR exercises, which can be helpful for individuals who prefer a visual guide. Some popular channels that offer PMR videos include The Honest Guys, Michael Sealey, and Jason Stephenson.

The Main Point:

PMR is a simple yet effective relaxation technique that can be done right in the comfort of your home. Research has shown it to have multiple health benefits including alleviating muscle tension, lowering stress & anxiety, improving sleep quality, and lowering elevated blood pressure. (1)


Regardless of which resource you choose, it's important to approach PMR with an open mind and a commitment to regular practice in order to reap the benefits of this relaxation technique.


If you are seeking additional mental health & stress management support, book your telehealth call below so we can find what works best for you!


Disclaimer: This is purely educational and does not serve as medical advice. Please speak with your HCP/PCP before making any changes to your current healthcare plan.


Check out my latest Instagram post with my other Stress Toolkit tips:

Click the pic to follow me on IG! ⬆️


References:

  1. Toussaint, L., et al. (2021). Effectiveness of Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Deep Breathing, and Guided Imagery in Promoting Psychological and Physiological States of Relaxation. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2021, 5924040. https://doi.org/10.1155/2021/5924040

  2. Norelli SK, et al. (2022). Relaxation Techniques.In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513238/

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