Feeling Tense? Progressive Muscle Relaxation May Help

Reviewed May 26, 2016

Close

E-mail Article

Complete form to e-mail article…

Required fields are denoted by an asterisk (*) adjacent to the label.

Separate multiple recipients with a comma

Close

Sign-Up For Newsletters

Complete this form to sign-up for newsletters…

Required fields are denoted by an asterisk (*) adjacent to the label.

 

Summary

Promote relaxation by tensing and releasing muscles.

Stress response

Stress triggers a cascade of physical, mental, and emotional changes. During times of stress, the autonomic (involuntary) nervous system increases the release of a substance called adrenaline. Also known as epinephrine, adrenaline is a stress hormone (substances that control how the body works inside and how it adapts to changes in the environment) and also a neurotransmitter (a brain chemical that regulates thinking and emotions).

The release of adrenaline is the first response of the body to stressful situations. It triggers the "fight-or-flight" response. The bodily responses to adrenaline include an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, sweating, and muscle tension, and dilated pupils. The mental reactions to stress and adrenaline include a sense of heightened alertness, worry, fear, anger, and, in severe cases, a feeling of disconnection with reality. Simply stated, our bodies and minds become ready to react to a real or perceived threat to our safety or well-being.

Prolonged exposure to stress (chronic stress) triggers the release of other stress hormones, including cortisol. There is proof that chronically high levels of cortisol is a major contributor to the growing rate of high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol levels, gastrointestinal distress, depression, anxiety, and weakening of the immune system. As a result, there is a renewed interest in addressing stress before it wreaks havoc on our body.

Relaxation response

Cardiologist Herbert Benson of Harvard University coined the term "relaxation response" in the early 1970s to describe a physical state that is the opposite of the stress response. Dr. Benson observed that the relaxation response was characterized by positive changes in the sympathetic nervous system, blood pressure, oxygen consumption, and heart rate, and that this “state” might be attained through the introduction of relaxation methods.

Although relaxation therapies differ in philosophy and method, they share the common goal of provoking the relaxation response. There are many approaches including rhythmic breathing, meditation and prayer, and progressive muscle relaxation. 

Progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is used to reduce stress, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and certain types of chronic pain. Based on the premise of tensing, or tightening, one muscle group at a time, followed by a release of the tension, it is used by a variety of health care professionals for a number of conditions, including headaches, psychosomatic disorders (medical problems or physical symptoms originating from emotional conflicts in the mind), cancer pain, high blood pressure, and digestive disturbances.

Here is a typical exercise used in a progressive muscle relaxation session—moving from head to toe.

While lying down on your back:

  • Forehead: Wrinkle it into a deep frown. Hold for five seconds; relax.
  • Close your eyes as tightly as possible. Hold for five seconds; relax.
  • Grin from ear to ear. Hold for three seconds; relax.
  • Press your lips together tightly. Hold for five seconds; relax.
  • Arch your neck backward. Hold for three seconds; relax.
  • Touch your chin to your chest. Hold for three seconds; relax.
  • Shrug your shoulders. Hold for five seconds; relax.
  • Clench your hands into fists, bend your arms at the elbows, and flex your biceps. Hold for five seconds; relax slowly.
  •  Extend your wrists and forearms backward at the wrist. Hold for three seconds; relax.
  • Clench your fists. Hold for five seconds; relax slowly.
  • Take a deep breath and hold it for three seconds, then breathe out slowly.
  • Arch your back up and away from the floor. Hold it for three seconds; relax.
  • Suck in your tummy. Hold for three seconds; relax.
  • Press the buttocks together tightly. Hold for five seconds; relax.
  • Tighten your thighs hard for three seconds; relax.
  • Arch your toes toward your face, as if trying to bring the toes up to touch your head. Hold for three seconds; relax.
  • Curl your toes and feet downward. Hold for three seconds; relax. 

Progressive muscle relaxation is an excellent method for reducing musculoskeletal tension. However, people with heart disease, high blood pressure, or any musculoskeletal injuries should use it cautiously.

By Drew Edwards, EdD, MS
Source: Cheung YL, Molassiotis A, Chang AM. (2003) “The effect of progressive muscle relaxation training on anxiety and quality of life after stoma surgery in colorectal cancer patients.” Psychooncology, 12(3):254-266.; Beck JG, Stanley MA, Baldwin LE, et al. (1994) “Comparison of cognitive therapy and relaxation training for panic disorder.” Journal of Consulting Clinical Psychology, 62(4):818-826; National Institute of Mental Health, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml; King, A. (2016). Neurobiology: Rise of resilience. Nature, 531(7592), S18-S19.
Reviewed by Paulo Correa, MD, Associate Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

Promote relaxation by tensing and releasing muscles.

Stress response

Stress triggers a cascade of physical, mental, and emotional changes. During times of stress, the autonomic (involuntary) nervous system increases the release of a substance called adrenaline. Also known as epinephrine, adrenaline is a stress hormone (substances that control how the body works inside and how it adapts to changes in the environment) and also a neurotransmitter (a brain chemical that regulates thinking and emotions).

The release of adrenaline is the first response of the body to stressful situations. It triggers the "fight-or-flight" response. The bodily responses to adrenaline include an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, sweating, and muscle tension, and dilated pupils. The mental reactions to stress and adrenaline include a sense of heightened alertness, worry, fear, anger, and, in severe cases, a feeling of disconnection with reality. Simply stated, our bodies and minds become ready to react to a real or perceived threat to our safety or well-being.

Prolonged exposure to stress (chronic stress) triggers the release of other stress hormones, including cortisol. There is proof that chronically high levels of cortisol is a major contributor to the growing rate of high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol levels, gastrointestinal distress, depression, anxiety, and weakening of the immune system. As a result, there is a renewed interest in addressing stress before it wreaks havoc on our body.

Relaxation response

Cardiologist Herbert Benson of Harvard University coined the term "relaxation response" in the early 1970s to describe a physical state that is the opposite of the stress response. Dr. Benson observed that the relaxation response was characterized by positive changes in the sympathetic nervous system, blood pressure, oxygen consumption, and heart rate, and that this “state” might be attained through the introduction of relaxation methods.

Although relaxation therapies differ in philosophy and method, they share the common goal of provoking the relaxation response. There are many approaches including rhythmic breathing, meditation and prayer, and progressive muscle relaxation. 

Progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is used to reduce stress, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and certain types of chronic pain. Based on the premise of tensing, or tightening, one muscle group at a time, followed by a release of the tension, it is used by a variety of health care professionals for a number of conditions, including headaches, psychosomatic disorders (medical problems or physical symptoms originating from emotional conflicts in the mind), cancer pain, high blood pressure, and digestive disturbances.

Here is a typical exercise used in a progressive muscle relaxation session—moving from head to toe.

While lying down on your back:

  • Forehead: Wrinkle it into a deep frown. Hold for five seconds; relax.
  • Close your eyes as tightly as possible. Hold for five seconds; relax.
  • Grin from ear to ear. Hold for three seconds; relax.
  • Press your lips together tightly. Hold for five seconds; relax.
  • Arch your neck backward. Hold for three seconds; relax.
  • Touch your chin to your chest. Hold for three seconds; relax.
  • Shrug your shoulders. Hold for five seconds; relax.
  • Clench your hands into fists, bend your arms at the elbows, and flex your biceps. Hold for five seconds; relax slowly.
  •  Extend your wrists and forearms backward at the wrist. Hold for three seconds; relax.
  • Clench your fists. Hold for five seconds; relax slowly.
  • Take a deep breath and hold it for three seconds, then breathe out slowly.
  • Arch your back up and away from the floor. Hold it for three seconds; relax.
  • Suck in your tummy. Hold for three seconds; relax.
  • Press the buttocks together tightly. Hold for five seconds; relax.
  • Tighten your thighs hard for three seconds; relax.
  • Arch your toes toward your face, as if trying to bring the toes up to touch your head. Hold for three seconds; relax.
  • Curl your toes and feet downward. Hold for three seconds; relax. 

Progressive muscle relaxation is an excellent method for reducing musculoskeletal tension. However, people with heart disease, high blood pressure, or any musculoskeletal injuries should use it cautiously.

By Drew Edwards, EdD, MS
Source: Cheung YL, Molassiotis A, Chang AM. (2003) “The effect of progressive muscle relaxation training on anxiety and quality of life after stoma surgery in colorectal cancer patients.” Psychooncology, 12(3):254-266.; Beck JG, Stanley MA, Baldwin LE, et al. (1994) “Comparison of cognitive therapy and relaxation training for panic disorder.” Journal of Consulting Clinical Psychology, 62(4):818-826; National Institute of Mental Health, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml; King, A. (2016). Neurobiology: Rise of resilience. Nature, 531(7592), S18-S19.
Reviewed by Paulo Correa, MD, Associate Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

Promote relaxation by tensing and releasing muscles.

Stress response

Stress triggers a cascade of physical, mental, and emotional changes. During times of stress, the autonomic (involuntary) nervous system increases the release of a substance called adrenaline. Also known as epinephrine, adrenaline is a stress hormone (substances that control how the body works inside and how it adapts to changes in the environment) and also a neurotransmitter (a brain chemical that regulates thinking and emotions).

The release of adrenaline is the first response of the body to stressful situations. It triggers the "fight-or-flight" response. The bodily responses to adrenaline include an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, sweating, and muscle tension, and dilated pupils. The mental reactions to stress and adrenaline include a sense of heightened alertness, worry, fear, anger, and, in severe cases, a feeling of disconnection with reality. Simply stated, our bodies and minds become ready to react to a real or perceived threat to our safety or well-being.

Prolonged exposure to stress (chronic stress) triggers the release of other stress hormones, including cortisol. There is proof that chronically high levels of cortisol is a major contributor to the growing rate of high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol levels, gastrointestinal distress, depression, anxiety, and weakening of the immune system. As a result, there is a renewed interest in addressing stress before it wreaks havoc on our body.

Relaxation response

Cardiologist Herbert Benson of Harvard University coined the term "relaxation response" in the early 1970s to describe a physical state that is the opposite of the stress response. Dr. Benson observed that the relaxation response was characterized by positive changes in the sympathetic nervous system, blood pressure, oxygen consumption, and heart rate, and that this “state” might be attained through the introduction of relaxation methods.

Although relaxation therapies differ in philosophy and method, they share the common goal of provoking the relaxation response. There are many approaches including rhythmic breathing, meditation and prayer, and progressive muscle relaxation. 

Progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is used to reduce stress, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and certain types of chronic pain. Based on the premise of tensing, or tightening, one muscle group at a time, followed by a release of the tension, it is used by a variety of health care professionals for a number of conditions, including headaches, psychosomatic disorders (medical problems or physical symptoms originating from emotional conflicts in the mind), cancer pain, high blood pressure, and digestive disturbances.

Here is a typical exercise used in a progressive muscle relaxation session—moving from head to toe.

While lying down on your back:

  • Forehead: Wrinkle it into a deep frown. Hold for five seconds; relax.
  • Close your eyes as tightly as possible. Hold for five seconds; relax.
  • Grin from ear to ear. Hold for three seconds; relax.
  • Press your lips together tightly. Hold for five seconds; relax.
  • Arch your neck backward. Hold for three seconds; relax.
  • Touch your chin to your chest. Hold for three seconds; relax.
  • Shrug your shoulders. Hold for five seconds; relax.
  • Clench your hands into fists, bend your arms at the elbows, and flex your biceps. Hold for five seconds; relax slowly.
  •  Extend your wrists and forearms backward at the wrist. Hold for three seconds; relax.
  • Clench your fists. Hold for five seconds; relax slowly.
  • Take a deep breath and hold it for three seconds, then breathe out slowly.
  • Arch your back up and away from the floor. Hold it for three seconds; relax.
  • Suck in your tummy. Hold for three seconds; relax.
  • Press the buttocks together tightly. Hold for five seconds; relax.
  • Tighten your thighs hard for three seconds; relax.
  • Arch your toes toward your face, as if trying to bring the toes up to touch your head. Hold for three seconds; relax.
  • Curl your toes and feet downward. Hold for three seconds; relax. 

Progressive muscle relaxation is an excellent method for reducing musculoskeletal tension. However, people with heart disease, high blood pressure, or any musculoskeletal injuries should use it cautiously.

By Drew Edwards, EdD, MS
Source: Cheung YL, Molassiotis A, Chang AM. (2003) “The effect of progressive muscle relaxation training on anxiety and quality of life after stoma surgery in colorectal cancer patients.” Psychooncology, 12(3):254-266.; Beck JG, Stanley MA, Baldwin LE, et al. (1994) “Comparison of cognitive therapy and relaxation training for panic disorder.” Journal of Consulting Clinical Psychology, 62(4):818-826; National Institute of Mental Health, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml; King, A. (2016). Neurobiology: Rise of resilience. Nature, 531(7592), S18-S19.
Reviewed by Paulo Correa, MD, Associate Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, health care, psychiatric, psychological or behavioral health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

Close

  • Useful Tools

    Select a tool below

© 2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.