Progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is an effective strategy for reducing overall body tension.

This practice involves a two-step process during which you tense and relax different muscles in the body. With regular practice, progressive muscle relaxation helps you become aware of what tension and its opposite — complete relaxation — feel like in all parts of the body. This awareness helps you spot and counteract the first signs of the muscular tension that accompanies stress. As your body relaxes, so will your mind. You can combine deep breathing with progressive muscle relaxation for an additional level of relief from stress.

Here’s how to get started:

  1. After finding a quiet place and several free minutes to practice progressive muscle relaxation, sit or lie down and make yourself comfortable. Loosen your clothing, take off your shoes and get comfortable. Take a few minutes to relax, breathing in and out in slow, deep breaths.
  2. Begin by tensing all of the muscles in your face. Make a tight grimace, close your eyes as tightly as possible, clench your teeth, even move your ears up if you can. Hold this for a count of eight as you inhale. Now exhale as you relax completely. Let your face go completely lax, as though you were sleeping. Feel the tension seep from your facial muscles and enjoy the feeling.
  3. Next, completely tense your neck and shoulders, again inhaling and counting to eight. Then exhale and relax. Continue down your body, repeating the procedure with the following muscle groups: chest, abdomen, entire right arm, right forearm and hand (making a fist), entire left arm, left forearm and hand (again making a fist), buttocks, entire right leg, lower right leg, right foot, entire left leg, lower left leg, and left foot.
  4. For a shortened version, focus on the following four main muscle groups: face; neck, shoulders, and arms; abdomen and chest; and the buttocks, legs and feet. You can use progressive muscle relaxation to quickly de-stress anytime.