Stress and Anxiety Reduction Using Progressive Muscle Relaxation

As I considered a topic for my first blog entry I decided that since we all experience tension, stress and, at times, anxiety,  it would be useful to talk about progressive muscle relaxation exercises.

When we are under stress or experiencing anxiety our bodies get involved in addition to our thoughts.

For example, you might feel an overall restlessness or jumpiness, or have an unsettled feeling in your chest or throat.

You might feel tightness/tension in your shoulders or find that your breathing seems a little restricted and that it’s difficult to take that full deep breadth.There are many ways that the body responds to anxiety.

Progressive muscle relaxation is an active way to deal with these body sensations and obtaining some relief from stress and anxiety.

It’s also possible that doing these exercises on a daily basis will allow for prevention of stress build-up and, even better, be health promoting.

So, what are these exercises?  

You can lie down or sit in a chair comfortably with uncrossed legs and arms.  You might choose to have a head support.

It’s helpful to close your eyes. At this point I generally have clients begin by tensing all the muscles around their eyes by closing them tightly and holding them like this for 5 seconds or more. When they feel “they can’t hold it anymore” they let go and allow the muscles around the eyes to rest in their natural position. 

I then move down to the mouth and ask them to either open their mouth as wide as they can or pucker their lips.  Either position works as long as there’s a stretch.  Again they hold it for as long as they can tolerate and then they let go.  We work downward to the shoulders, the abdomen, the arms and hands, upper legs, lower legs feet and toes.  Always tensing, holding and then letting go.  At the end of each release they allow the relaxed feeling to “sink in” while they take a breadth or two.

This exercise teaches, by contrast, how it feels to be tense and what it feels like when our bodies relax.

If you’re interested in further reading you can take a look at Dr. Herbert Benson’s book published in the 70’s, “The Relaxation Response”.

To download a progressive muscle relaxation exercise check out


Be Well