How to Relieve Anxiety Symptoms with Progressive Muscle Relaxation

This post is going to be a little different from my previous ones.

I'm sharing this because over the weekend while talking with some friends I realised that most of them had experienced some sort of debilitating anxiety at some point. All of us (including me) had stories to share about anxiety.

One of the things I found that has helped me is a simple tool that helps me to relax. Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a technique that systematically relaxes your body and is a very effective stress management technique. I started out following the steps I’m about to share with you. With practice I was able to learn to relax my whole body at once which is an enormously helpful skill. That said, I still find that I get more relaxation from the following steps.

  1. Close your eyes and start out with a few relaxing breaths. Try to breath using abdominal breath (you should be able to feel it in your tummy), and as you exhale feel the tension begin to ebb away.
  2. Hands. Clench your fists. Move your awareness to your hands. Clench both of your fists for up to 5 seconds. Release for 15-20 seconds, imagining the tension ebbing out of your hands.
  3. Biceps Tighten your biceps. Move your attention to your arms. Draw your forearms towards your shoulders, curling the biceps. Hold for up to 5 seconds and then release for 15-20 seconds. As you release, imagine the tension flowing out of your biceps.
  4. Forehead and scalp. Move your attention to your forehead. As you inhale lift your eyebrows and wrinkle your forehead. Hold for up to 5 seconds and then release for 15-20 seconds. As you release, feel the relaxation of the muscles of the forehead.
  5. Facial muscles. Move your attention to your facial muscles. Furrow your eyebrows and purse your lips. Try to pull all of your facial muscles towards your nose. Hold for up to 5 seconds, then release for 15-20 seconds. As you release, feel the relaxation of the facial muscles.
  6. Jaw. Bring your attention to your jaw. Clench your jaw tightly, feeling the tension in the surrounding muscles. Hold for up to 5 seconds and ten release for 15-20 seconds. Relax the muscles and allow the tension to disappear. You may feel your mouth begin to open a little. We hold a lot of tension in our jaw - this one is useful by itself.
  7. Neck and shoulders.Bring your awareness to this region. Shrug your shoulders towards your ears. Feel the tension in the surrounding muscles. Hold for up to 5 seconds and then release for 15-20 seconds. Feel the tension in the muscles ebb away.
  8. Upper back/shoulders. Bring your awareness between the shoulder blades. Push your shoulder blades back as if you were trying to get them to touch. Feel the tension in the surrounding muscles. Hold for up to 5 seconds and then release for 15-20 seconds. Feel the tension between the shoulder blades ebb away.
  9. Upper chest. Bring your awareness to your upper chest. Tighten the chest muscles and hold. Feel the tension in the upper chest muscles. Hold for up to 5 seconds and then release for 15-20 seconds. Feel the tension in the chest muscles flow away.
  10. Stomach. Bring your awareness to your navel area. Try to draw your navel into your backbone. Feel your stomach muscles tighten. Hold for up to 5 seconds and then release for 15-20 seconds. Feel the tension in the abdominal muscles dissipate.
  11. Bottom. Bring your awareness to your bottom. Squeeze your buttocks together, consciously tightening the muscles in this region. Hold for up to 5 seconds and then release for 15-20 seconds. Feel the tension in these muscles disappear.
  12. Thighs. Bring your awareness to your thigh muscles. Try not to contract your stomach muscles as you consciously tighten your upper thigh muscles. Hold for up to 5 seconds and then release for 15-20 seconds. Feel the tension in the thigh muscles dissipate.
  13. Calves. Bring your focus to your calf muscles. Consciously tighten your calf muscles by pointing your toes. Hold for up to 5 seconds and then release for 15-20 seconds. Feel the tension in the calf muscles flow away.
  14. Feet. Bring your focus of attention to your feet. Tighten your feet by curling your toes towards the ground. Hold for up to 5 seconds and then release for 15-20 seconds. Feel the tension in the feet flow away.
  15. Mentally scan your body for any residual tension. If you find a muscle group with residual tension then tense and relax this area again.
  16. Feel a wave of relaxation, from the top of your head to the tip of your toes. When you are ready, bring your awareness back to your breath and slowly open your eyes.

This is written so that you can follow along. If you like this, let me know. I'm planning on creating a recording for you to follow along to - sign up below to get it sent to your inbox.

Posted on September 27, 2017 and filed under mental health.