Basic Psychology, Psychopathology

Using the Relaxation Response to Relieve Stress – Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

Progressive muscle relaxation is a two-step process in which you systematically tense and relax different muscle groups in the body. With regular practice, it gives you an intimate familiarity with what tension—as well as complete relaxation—feels like in different parts of the body. This can help you to you react to the first signs of the muscular tension that accompanies stress. And as your body relaxes, so will your mind.

Progressive muscle relaxation can be combined with deep breathing for additional stress relief.

Practicing progressive muscle relaxation

Consult with your doctor first if you have a history of muscle spasms, back problems, or other serious injuries that may be aggravated by tensing muscles.

Start at your feet and work your way up to your face, trying to only tense those muscles intended.

  1. Loosen clothing, take off your shoes, and get comfortable.
  2. Take a few minutes to breathe in and out in slow, deep breaths.
  3. When you’re ready, shift your attention to your right foot. Take a moment to focus on the way it feels.
  4. Slowly tense the muscles in your right foot, squeezing as tightly as you can. Hold for a count of 10.
  5. Relax your foot. Focus on the tension flowing away and how your foot feels as it becomes limp and loose.
  6. Stay in this relaxed state for a moment, breathing deeply and slowly.
  7. Shift your attention to your left foot. Follow the same sequence of muscle tension and release.
  8. Move slowly up through your body, contracting and relaxing the different muscle groups.
  9. It may take some practice at first, but try not to tense muscles other than those intended.

Progressive muscle relaxation sequence

  1. Right foot, then left foot
  2. Right calf, then left calf
  3. Right thigh, then left thigh
  4. Hips and buttocks
  5. Stomach
  6. Chest
  7. Back
  8. Right arm and hand, then left arm and hand
  9. Neck and shoulders
  10. Face

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