Another very effective means of anxiety relaxation is Progressive Muscle Relaxation.
Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that was created by Dr. Edmund Jacobson to help folks manage anxiety and stress. Dr. Jacobson’s major work, “You must relax”, addressing the general public, came out in 1934. Interestingly Dr. Jacobson lived until he was 92 so perhaps one should strongly consider what he had to say!1
Dr. Jacobson speculated that anxiety and stress lead to muscle tension, leading to greater anxiety. This state of muscle tension is the opposite of the state that the body is in when it is relaxed, when there is little muscle tension. This relaxed state leads to decreased anxiety. Dr. Jacobson concluded that if a person’s body is relaxed, his/her mind cannot be in a state of nervousness.
Folks who suffer from anxiety, panic attacks, and agoraphobia may very well experience frequent muscle tension even when they feel that they are in a more relaxed state, because chronic muscle tension may be so automatic that it seems normal, and they may have forgotten what it feels like when their muscles are completely relaxed.
By utilizing the progressive muscle relaxation technique, you will become again enabled to distinguish between relaxation and when various muscle groups are tense.
Here is a very easy way to get a sample of progressive muscle relaxation:
1. Make a tight fist while at the same time flexing your hand upward at the wrist.
2. Focus on the sensations you feel while these muscles are tensed.
3. Hold this position for about 10 seconds and release.
4. Let your hand and arm go limp.
5. Focus on how your relaxed muscles feel.
6. Repeat a couple of times.
7. Focus on the different feelings and physical sensations between tensing and relaxing your fist.
What is happening here?
Basically, a progressive muscle relaxation exercise involves systematically constricting and relaxing various muscle groups from your feet upward or your head downward. You focus on tensing and relaxing muscle groups in the feet, legs, buttocks, stomach, back, hands, arms, chest, shoulders, neck and face.
To be most effective, you should be sitting or lying down in a comfortable position. Your eyes may be opened or closed, but most people find closing their eyes helps maintain focus during the exercise. Loosen any restrictive clothing, make sure your surroundings are quiet and follow these basic steps.
As previously shared quite some time ago, anxiety triggers certain physical changes and sensations – physiological changes – such as:
Increased blood flow to the muscles
Rapid or shallow breathing
Increased heart rate
By using PMR, you can counter these physical changes and sensations to achieve a “relaxation response.” A relaxation response comes from using relaxation techniques to calm your body. During PMR, your breathing slows and your heart rate and blood pressure decrease. When muscles are relaxed, they don’t require as much oxygen as when they are tense. This allows redirection of blood flow from the tense muscles to other areas of the body, which reduces many of the unpleasant physical effects of anxiety.
What Are the Benefits of PMR?
PMR has been shown to be beneficial in easing anxiety, and reducing anxiety has been shown to improve the symptoms of many psychological and medical conditions. This technique is often recommended for people with anxiety disorders, insomnia, chronic pain and other disorders. 2
If you experience feelings of emotional distress while using progressive muscle relaxation, stop and talk to your doctor.
If your muscles are sore or if you have an injury to any body part that you want to target with PMR, talk to your doctor before using this technique.
If you experience any intense muscle pain while performing this exercise, stop immediately and call your doctor.
For more information about a more detailed PMR exercise get started today with my Panic Attack Recovery Newsletter.
Reference (Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Anxiety Relaxation)
2. Davis, M., Eshelman, E., and McKay, M. “The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook, 5th Addition” 2000 New Harbinger Publications, Inc.: Oak