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Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Posted Mar 16 2009 3:37pm
Progressive Muscle Relaxation helps to reduce Anxiety by stimulating the Parasympathetic Nervous System (Rest and Repose Response). When we are Anxious our thoughts of danger stimulate the Sympathetic Nervous System (Fight or Flight Response). By intentionally tensing and then relaxing the muscles of the body while focusing on the breath we can reduce the physical symptoms of Anxiety, which helps to reduce the mental or emotional symptoms.

This is an abbreviated version of a progressive muscle relation:

There are two parts to progressive muscle relaxation:

  • Step One: Create Tension. The process of applying tension to a muscle is essentially the same regardless of which muscle group you are using. First, focus your mind on the muscle group; for example, your right hand. Then inhale and simply squeeze the muscles as hard as you can for about 8 seconds; in the example, this would involve making a tight fist with your hand.

  • Step Two: Releasing the Tension. After the 8 seconds, just quickly and suddenly let go. Let all the tightness and pain flow out of the muscles as you simultaneously exhale. In the example, this would be imagining tightness and pain flowing out of your hand through your fingertips as you exhale. Feel the muscles relax and become loose and limp, tension flowing away like water out of a faucet. Focus on and notice the difference between tension and relaxation.

The summary muscle groups. Instead of working with just one specific part of your body at a time, focus on the complete group. In Group 1, for example, focus on both legs and feet all at once. The four summary muscle groups are as follows:

  • Lower limbs
  • Abdomen and Chest
  • Arms, Shoulders, and Neck
  • Face

In addition, focus on your breathing during both tension and relaxation. Inhale slowly as you apply and hold the tension. Then, when you let the tension go and exhale, say a cue word to yourself (below). This will help you to associate the cue word with a state of relaxation, so that eventually the cue word alone will produce a relaxed state. Suggested cue words:

  • Relax
  • Let it go
  • It’s OK
  • Stay calm
  • All things are passing
Katie Goode, LMFT
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