Stress tenses our bodies, which can lead to a variety of painful physical symptoms.
Fortunately, there’s a well-supported technique that can easily fit in to your day and can help you feel more at ease.
One of the major effects of stress is muscle tension and chronic muscle tension can lead to headaches, back pain, cramps and aches all over the body as well as contributing to insomnia, which further adds to our stress.
If your muscles are tightening up in the face of stress, you may benefit from a technique known as PMR – Progressive Muscle Relaxation.
PMR is a quick and easy way to relax physically and emotionally. A typical practice takes less than ten minutes, although you can spend longer if you have the time. Do as much as you feel able to manage – even a brief session can help you relax during stressful times.
Although it’s helpful at any time of the day, PMR can also be used before bedtime to improve your sleep.
If we’re habitually tense, it can be hard to fully relax. PMR involves clenching groups of muscles tightly, and then relaxing them – which creates a greater sense of release.
If you have an injury, first ask your doctor whether this is a safe practice for you. PMR should be done sitting down as you can relax, or lying down, if you don’t nodding off afterwards!
- Clench and inhale
- Hold for 5 – 10 seconds
- Relax and exhale
- Rest for 10 – 20 seconds
- Repeat for each part of the body.
By tightening and the relaxing each part of the body – followed by a brief pause before you move to the next part of your body – you reduce muscle tension , leaving you feeling calmer and more comfortable.
Begin with your feet, and work your way up your body.
- Starting with one foot. Clench your muscles by curling your toes tight. Then relax.
- Move to your lower leg. Pull your toes upward towards you, which tenses the calf and relax.
- Clench your thigh muscles as well as your foot and calf and relax.
- Repeat all three exercises for your other leg.
- Clench one hand by making a fist, then relax.
- Tighten your arm in the “bicep flexing” pose, with your hand clenched as well, then relax.
- Repeat both exercises for your other arm.
- Tighten your buttocks, then relax.
- Suck in your stomach, then relax.
- Take a deep breath to tighten your chest, then relax.
- Squeeze your shoulders up to your ears, then relax.
- Stretch your mouth, open wide then relax.
- Squeeze your eyes tight shut, then relax.
- Raise your eyebrows high, then relax.
As American physician and founder of PMR Edmund Jacobson said: “An anxious mind cannot exist in a relaxed body.”