muscle relaxation

Unsplash / Ayo Ogunseinde

It has been said that we often carry our emotions in our body, and our psychological woes can manifest in physical symptoms. Think of a headache or a stomach ache when you’re nervous, we know there is a correlation between physical pain and anxiety-inducing situational factors. To cope with muscle strain, Dr. Edmund Jacobson developed Jacobson’s relaxation technique, also called progressive muscle relaxation, in the 1920s. From there, it has been widely implemented and advised by mental health professionals in many settings.

Alleviate ailments

A myriad of ailments is said to benefit from practicing the exercise. These include:

– Depression

– Anxiety

– Headaches

– High blood pressure

– Chronic pain

– Insomnia

The use of progressive muscle relaxation may be useful for a holistic approach to regulating emotional and psychological stress. Not only is the practice a non-pharmaceutical approach, but it can also be implemented in any space. Therefore, it could be worth a try before that big job interview, exam, or high stakes presentation.

Stacks of research show that taking time for intentional self-care and destressing your body presents unlimited positive returns and decreases the incidence of additional health concerns stemming from ongoing stress. With no downsides or negative side effects, this technique is highly effective in building a defense against stressors.

How does it work?

The premise behind the technique rests on our mind and body being related in that relaxing our body also releases anxiety and stress. Essentially, the mind cannot be tense if the body has reached a state of relaxation. With it being a simple exercise involving the tensing of each muscle with an inhale and relaxing the muscles with the exhale, progressive muscle relaxation can be done anywhere. Additionally, it can be repeated as needed until the desired state is achieved.

Generally, it is advised to start at the top and work your way down the body. For example, start with your face by grimacing, closing your eyes tightly, and opening your mouth. Hold those expressions with a deep inhale and then release them with a long exhale. Work your way down through the neck, shoulders, limbs, hands, and feet. This is an easy exercise to customize by targeting fewer muscle groups if pressed for time. Typically, sessions can last from ten to thirty minutes, depending on need. Guided relaxation on audio format can even be utilized and helpful for some to get in the proper mindset.

A quiet space and comfy position are the only requirements.  With any practice, repeated use makes achieving a tension-free state more attainable and faster in subsequent sessions.

Relaxation sequence

When tensing muscles, do not tense to the point of discomfort or cramping. It has been recommended to hold the contraction for four to 10 seconds while relaxing for 10 to 20 seconds in between, coordinated with intentional breathing (i.e. breath in with a muscle contraction and out with a release). Try to eliminate intrusive thoughts and focus on being present with your breathing.

  1. Face: grimace, close eyes, furrow brows, or open your mouth wide
  2. Neck: look up to the ceiling and stretch
  3. Right and left upper arms: bring forearms to shoulders and make a muscle
  4. Right and left forearms: make fists and release
  5. Upper legs: tense your thighs and release
  6. Lower legs: tense calf by pointing your toes

This regimen can be adjusted to suit particular needs and target more specific groups of muscles and although there are many approaches to dealing with chronic stress, this technique is fast and effective. Go ahead, take some much needed time for yourself to be mindful of your own comfort with progressive muscle relaxation.