One of our bodies reactions to fear and anxiety is muscle tension. This can result in feeling “tense” or can lead to muscle aches and pains, as well as leaving some people feeling exhausted. Think about how you respond to anxiety. Do you “tense up”when you feel anxious? Muscle relaxation can be particularly helpful in cases where anxiety is especially associated to muscle tension.
Muscle tension is commonly associated with stress, anxiety and fear as part of a process that helps our bodies prepare for potentially dangerous situations. Even though some of those situations may not actually be dangerous, our bodies respond in the same way. Sometimes we don’t even notice how our muscles become tense, but perhaps you clench your teeth slightly so your jaw feels tight, or maybe your shoulders become tense. Muscle tension can also be associated with backaches and tension headaches.
One method of reducing muscle tension that people have found helpful through a technique called Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR).
It is as simple as it sounds, PMR consists entirely of focusing on a muscle group, tensing that muscle group, and then relaxing that muscle group. This process is repeated throughout the entire body, until our entire body has tensed and relaxed.
Throughout your progressive muscle relation exercise, you may visualize the muscles tensing and a wave of relaxation flowing over them as you release that tension. It is important that you keep breathing throughout the exercise. Now lets begin!
- Find yourself a quiet place to relax, turn off your phone and dim the lights. This is your time; a time for complete and utter relaxation. For this relaxation, you can either sit or lie down. Just make sure that you are warm enough, and that you are comfortable.
- Let your hands rest loosely in your lap, or by your side. Allow your attention to focus only on your body. If you begin to notice your mind wandering, bring it back to the muscle you are working on.
- When you are ready to begin, tense the muscle group described. Make sure you can feel the tension, but not so much that you feel a great deal of pain. Keep the muscle tensed for approximately 5 seconds.
- Relax the muscles and keep it relaxed for approximately 10 seconds. It may be helpful to say something like “Relax” as you relax the muscle.
- When you have finished your PMR session, remain still for a few moments allowing yourself to become alert.
- Right hand and forearm – Make a fist with your right hand.
- Right upper arm – Bring your right forearm up to your shoulder to “make a muscle”.
- Left hand and forearm – Repeat the same as right hand and forearm.
- Left upper arm – Repeat the same as right upper arm.
- Forehead -Raise your eyebrows as high as they will go, as though you were surprised by something.
- Eyes and cheeks – Squeeze your eyes tight shut.
- Mouth and jaw – Open your mouth as wide as you can, as you might when you‘re yawning.
- Neck. !!! Be careful as you tense these muscles – Face forward and then pull your head back slowly, as though you are looking up to the ceiling.
- Shoulders – Tense the muscles in your shoulders as you bring your shoulders up towards your ears.
- Shoulder blades/Back – Push your shoulder blades back, trying to almost touch them together, so that your chest is pushed forward.
- Chest and stomach – Breathe in deeply, filling up your lungs and chest with air.
- Hips and buttocks – Squeeze your buttock muscles
- Right upper leg – Tighten your right thigh.
- Right lower leg – Do this slowly and carefully to avoid cramps. Pull your toes towards you to stretch the calf muscle.
- Right foot – Curl your toes downwards.
- Left upper leg – Repeat the same as right upper leg.
- Left lower leg – Repeat the same as right lower leg.
- Left foot – Repeat the same as right foot.
Only through practice can we become more aware of our muscles, how they respond with tension, and how we can relax them. Training our body to respond differently to stress is like any training, practicing consistently is the key.