Progressive Muscle Relaxation

person meditating/relaxing at a lake

Imagine sitting in your office feeling the stress of the day. There may have been a major setback or a series of small irritations. You are feeling the effects of the tension. Your muscles are tight, your stomach is in knots, and you feel a headache coming on.

For many people, this is not hard to imagine. For too many, it is part of daily life. Life always has its fair share of stress, and managing mental health issues will only add to the burden. A plan with proven stress reduction methods is a prudent strategy. Progressive muscle relaxation is an effective and convenient addition to your stress management toolbox.

Stress is a natural response to any situation that requires adaptation or change. According to the National Institute of Health (, “Stress is the physical or mental response to an external cause.” While some degree of stress can be beneficial, chronic or overwhelming stress can harm your physical, mental, and emotional health.

Therefore, in this blog, we will explore the following:

  • Effects of chronic stress
  • A definition of progressive muscle relaxation
  • The difference between PMR and regular relaxation
  • Benefits of progressive muscle relaxation
  • Complementary practices
  • Next steps for your journey

Effects of Chronic Stress

The physiological stress response involves the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which trigger the “fight or flight” response. In the short term, this can help improve focus and energy levels, but over time, chronic stress can lead to a range of adverse physical effects, such as the following:

  • headaches
  • muscle tension
  • high blood pressure
  • weakened immune function
  • unhealthy heart rates
  • heart disease

In addition to its physical effects, stress can also have a significant impact on mental health. Chronic stress has been linked to the development of anxiety and depression and can also exacerbate existing mental health conditions. The stress response can cause changes in brain function and structure, affecting memory, decision-making, and emotional regulation.

Emotionally, stress can lead to feeling overwhelmed, irritability, and decreased motivation. Chronic stress can also lead to conditions such as:

  • burnout
  • mental fatigue
  • physical exhaustion

These conditions result from prolonged stress and can seriously affect your ability to function personally and professionally.

Stress can also have social effects, impacting relationships and social support systems. Chronic stress can lead to consequences such as:

  • social withdrawal
  • decreased communication
  • strained relationships

These social and relational struggles further exacerbate stress levels and impact overall well-being.

It is important to recognize and manage stress before it becomes chronic and overwhelming. By developing a stress management strategy, you can prevent the adverse consequences of stress and keep striving toward your highest potential. As always, you should consult your healthcare provider about any health concerns, including increased stress levels. In addition, one great strategy for stress management is progressive muscle relaxation.

A Definition of Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a relaxation technique for managing stress and anxiety that involves systematically tensing and relaxing muscle groups throughout the body. This practice is based on the idea that physical relaxation can lead to mental relaxation. It is effective in reducing stress, anxiety, and even physical pain.

Progressive muscle relaxation exercises begin with finding a quiet and comfortable place to sit or lie down. Once in a comfortable position, start by tensing a specific muscle group. Hold those tense muscles for several seconds. Then release the tension and allow the muscle to relax completely. This is typically done in a specific order, starting with the muscles in the feet and calf muscles and moving up to the next muscle group through the body to eventually reach the upper arms, shoulders, face, and scalp.

It can be helpful to think specifically about each muscle group. Rather than thinking about your lower legs, you may think specifically about your right foot or left hand.

As you go through this progression, it may be helpful to incorporate practices such as:

  • Visualization of tranquil scenes
  • Deep breathing
  • The use of meditation apps

One advantage of relaxation training is that it can be practiced almost anywhere and anytime, making it a convenient tool for managing stress in a busy world. Additionally, PMR does not require any special equipment or training, so it can be easily incorporated into your daily routine to reach deep relaxation.

The Difference Between PMR and Regular Relaxation

While any form of relaxation can have benefits, progressive muscle relaxation involves a more direct approach to stress management. Here are some differences between progressive muscle relaxation and regular relaxation:

  1. Focus: PMR focuses on tensing and relaxing specific muscle groups in the body, while regular relaxation does not involve any specific focus or technique.
  2. Systematic approach: PMR involves a systematic approach, while regular relaxation does not include any specific sequence.
  3. Physical engagement: PMR involves the active engagement of the muscles, while regular relaxation does not include any specific physical engagement.

Benefits of Progressive Muscle Relaxation

stressed out man at his computer

The process of tensing and relaxing each muscle group helps you to become more aware of the sensations in your body and to recognize when you are holding onto tension. Progressive muscle relaxation can also help you learn to consciously achieve that relaxation throughout your body and reduce overall muscle tension.

A positive effect of progressive muscle relaxation is the reduction of symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as pain relief in such areas as tension headaches.

The benefits also extend beyond reducing stress and anxiety. PMR can have to have positive effects on overall health with benefits including the following:

  • Heart rate slows
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Improved digestion
  • Breathing slows down
  • Pain reduction
  • Better blood sugar control
  • Stronger immune system
  • Better sleep

Complementary Practices

Progressive Muscle Relaxation can also be used as a complementary therapy alongside other treatments for mental health and chronic pain. These therapies and treatments include the following:

  1. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a form of talk therapy that helps people identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. It can effectively manage anxiety and chronic pain by helping individuals develop coping strategies and reducing the impact of pain on their lives. PMR can be a relaxation technique, helping patients reduce physical tension and anxiety associated with chronic pain.
  2. Physical therapy: Physical therapy can address the physical aspects of chronic pain by improving mobility, strength, and flexibility. PMR can be used as a tool to help patients reduce muscle tension and promote relaxation during physical therapy sessions.
  3. Massage therapy: Massage therapy involves manipulating the body’s soft tissues to promote relaxation and relieve muscle tension. It can effectively manage chronic pain by reducing muscle tension and promoting relaxation. PMR can be used in conjunction with massage therapy to enhance the relaxation response and reduce muscle tension associated with chronic pain.

Next Steps on Your Personal Development Journey

woman taking deep breath in sunlight

Overall, progressive muscle relaxation is a simple and effective tool for managing stress and anxiety that can be easily incorporated into one’s daily routine. The benefits of PMR extend beyond just stress relief and anxiety. It can be used alongside other treatments for mental health and physical pain. By becoming more aware of the sensations in your body and consciously relaxing your muscles, you can learn to manage stress and improve your overall health and well-being.

Life is going to be stressful. When progressive muscle relaxation is part of your personal development journey, it can help manage that stress and keep you thriving. To get started creating your mental health care plan,  contact our office today to schedule an appointment.

For more on developing your life and business to live the life of your dreams, check out the new book, Unbreakable, by Soribel Martinez, LCSW, CEO of SMPsychotherapy and Counseling Services. It’s a story of one woman’s journey through adversity and how you can use her principles to build your successful life. Get your copy here

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