When the Tension Takes a Toll
Stress, anxiety and fear are normal. They’re part of the survival instincts that keep us alive. However, our bodies sometimes respond with that primal “fight or flight” reaction during situations that aren’t technically dangerous. Even so, that stress is still real, and in times of great duress, chances are your body will reflect your state of mind. Teeth clenching? Stiff shoulders? What about backaches or tension headaches? These are all physical symptoms of stress. So… what do you do?
Unwinding Piece by Piece
Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a technique that anyone can use to help relax their body. It’s said to induce both physiological and psychological relaxation by reducing stress—therefore reducing muscle contractions and pain. The general idea is that you focus on individual muscle groups, tensing and then relaxing at different intervals. This practice allows you to be more aware of your muscles, their relationship with tension and how to relax. It effectively trains your body’s response to stress, decreasing aches and pains.
Taking the First Step
Sounds like something you’d like to try? Before jumping into Progressive Muscle Relaxation, it’s always best to consult with your physician—especially if you have any injuries or a history of physical problems. Then, make sure you’re in a peaceful surrounding with no distractions, sitting in a comfortable seat and wearing comfortable clothes. Of course, make sure not to use this technique after heavy meals or if you’re not feeling well.
The General Idea
To begin, take a few minutes to breathe—slowly and deeply. After you’re more relaxed, shift your focus to your right foot. Pay special attention to how that body part and muscle group feels in that moment, and slowly tense the muscles in that foot, squeezing them tightly. Hold this pressure for 10 seconds before relaxing. When muscle pressure is released, the tension flows away, giving the foot a limp, loose feeling. Before moving on to the next muscle group, breathe deeply and slowly, present in each step. This process is repeated from foot to head.
Depending on which variation of Progressive Muscle Relaxation you choose—there are both extended and shortened versions—the sequence of muscle groups, duration and focus may differ. Do a little bit of research about different techniques and find what you think may be the best system for you. And remember, while Progressive Muscle Relaxation is great for physical stress, fully embracing this technique has the potential to increase mental and emotional peace of mind as well.