Do you ever feel tense during the day or have trouble sleeping at night? If so, you are not alone. For many, relaxation may consist of scrolling endlessly on your phone through social media. But this does little to reduce the damaging health effects of chronic stress and can actually harm the quality of your sleep. On the other hand, relaxation exercises are designed to help your body let go of tension, clear your mind, and cause you to fall asleep faster while experiencing deeper and better quality sleep. This article will provide an overview of one of the most effective relaxation techniques: Progressive Muscle Relaxation.
Don’t really feel like reading? Then simply sit back and play this 10-minute video, in which Dr. Chi gives a brief overview of the physiologic stress response before guiding you through a soothing session of relaxation.
Overview of the Physiologic Stress Response
The Stress Response
The physiologic stress response is what happens when you are feeling anxious, tense, or stressed out. The “fight-or-flight” or stress response is a reaction to perceived danger, which causes your body to experience the following:
- Pounding and racing heartrate
- Fast and shallow breathing
- Rising blood pressure
- Tight and tensed muscles
- Anxiety and inability to think clearly
The Relaxation Response
In opposition to the physiologic stress response is the relaxation response. This is what happens when you do relaxation techniques. This response puts your body at rest and allows you to experience the following:
- Slow and steady heartrate
- Deeper and more even breaths
- Normalized and stable blood pressure
- Loosened and relaxed muscles
- Mental clarity due to improved oxygen delivery to the brain
Related Article: Effects of Stress on Your Body & Health: What to Know
Progressive Muscle Relaxation Technique
Tips for Successful Relaxation
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing.
- Find a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted for at least 15 minutes.
- Turn the lights down.
- If there is unavoidable noise, put on some background music or nature sounds.
- Turn off the phone and give yourself permission to devote some time to self-care.
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable position, with legs uncrossed and extended.
- Try each relaxation technique for at least a few days to give yourself a chance to find the one that is right for you.
- Don’t feel discouraged if you don’t achieve a given result the first few times.
- Remember that you are practicing a skill – like playing the piano. The more you practice, the more effective your relaxation skills become.
How to Do Progressive Muscle Relaxation by Yourself
The progressive muscle relaxation technique takes less than 10 minutes and works by increasing your awareness of the muscle tension that occurs during stress, and then forcing your body to release that pent-up tension.
- Sit back or lie down in a comfortable position. Close your eyes. Take a few slow, deep breaths.
- Beginning at your face, notice how your muscles feel. Are they tense, or relaxed?
- Tightly tense the muscles in your face by squeezing your eyes shut and tightening your lips.
- Hold this for 5-10 seconds.
- Now, release the tension from your face, allowing it to relax. Notice how relaxed they feel.
- Move down your body slowly and repeat this process with each group of muscles, one at a time:
- Lower Legs
Try this a couple of times and notice what a difference it makes in your day. Bookmark this page and revisit whenever you feel tense.
*The information presented in this post can be found in Being Empowered for a Healthy Heart: A personal guide to taking control of your health while living with chronic conditions, by Phoebe Chi, MD, MPH.