There are many ways to reduce stress and limit the negative health effects stress can have on the body. One of the most effective ways to relax and eliminate stress is to practice progressive muscle relaxation. Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that can help to stimulate your body’s relaxation response, sending you into a state of profound physical tranquility that allows your body to stop responding to stress. Here’s how you can use progressive muscle relaxation to relieve stress.
1. Lie Down on a Comfortable Surface
Ideally, the surface should be firm, but comfortable. Many people choose to practice progressive muscle relaxation while lying in bed. Others prefer to lie on a blanket or several blankets that are piled on the floor. You should be comfortable, but feel supported.
2. Close Your Eyes and Breathe Deeply
Begin the process by closing your eyes and inhaling deeply. Count the length of your inhales and exhales; inhale for a count of four and exhale for a count of six. Breathing in this manner helps to calm your central nervous system and allows your body to begin to relax.
Perform this breathing exercise for 6 to 10 breaths. Once you’ve finished, return to breathing naturally and normally. Pay attention to your breath and notice if, and how, it has changed.
3. Contract and Release the Muscles in the Feet
Contracting your muscles for at least 20 seconds helps them to relax more fully when they’re released. Start with your feet. Hold your feet as tense as possible for 20 seconds, then release.
4. Contract and Release of the Muscles of the Legs and Hips
Next, you’ll contract your calf muscle for 20 seconds and release them. It’s important to progress through the muscles as slowly as possible. Stick to contracting and releasing individual muscles when you can, for optimum relaxation.
Once you’ve relaxed your calves, move on to the muscles of the thigh, groin and buttocks.
5. Contract and Release the Muscles of the Core
Once you’ve relaxed your legs, hips and groin, move on to the muscles of the core. Contract the muscles of your abdomen for 20 seconds, then release. Repeat for the muscles of your back.
6. Contract and Release the Muscles of Your Hands, Arms and Shoulders
Once you’ve relaxed the muscles of your core, move on to your hands. Squeeze your hands into tight fists, hold for 20 seconds and release. Repeat the contract-and-release process with the muscles of your forearms, biceps and shoulders. You can also contract and release the muscles of your neck.
7. Contract and Release the Muscles of the Face
The last muscle group that you’ll progressively relax are the muscles of your face. Often, these muscles hold more tension than you might realize. Relaxing these muscles might make you want to yawn. Go ahead and yawn. This will only release further tension from your body.
8. Relax and Breathe Deeply
Once you’ve progressively relaxed all the muscles of your body, remain in a reclining position and breathe slowly, deeply and naturally for at least 10 minutes.