Progressive muscle relaxation

Learn the simple exercise of Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) to help reduce and prevent muscle tension, often caused by mental stress and anxiety. PMR involves purposefully and systematically tightening, then relaxing, groups of muscles and can allow you to become more in-tune with your body so you can help yourself relax. Find the steps below.

Share on.articles

When we experience stress or anxiety our muscles tense up. Muscle tension is a part of our body’s stress response, also known as part of the “fight, flight or freeze” response. Although modern day workplace stressors rarely pose immediate threats to our physical safety, our body doesn’t discriminate between the types of factors causing the stress response, and our muscles tighten as our bodies prepare to face or run away from threats in our environment. If we remain in such a tense state, over time our muscles can become wound up and tight. This can lead to tension headaches, back pain, and neck pain. Increased pain can in turn elevate our overall levels of stress, starting a vicious cycle.

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is an exercise to help reduce and prevent your overall level of tension. PMR involves purposefully and systematically tightening, then relaxing, groups of muscles. Our bodies then respond by further relaxing those muscles. PMR can allow you to become more in-tune with your body, so that when you feel tension you’re more aware of it and can better help yourself relax. 

To practice PMR: 

  • Find a quiet place free of interruptions
  • Sit in a comfortable position
  • Think about how you are feeling right now. Do you have any points of tension in your body? What are you thinking about? What might be distracting you?
  • Plant both feet firmly on the ground. Place your hands on your legs with your palms up. After you’ve done this activity a couple times, if you are comfortable doing so, gently close your eyes. Now try to relax and breathe normally.
  • You can start at the top of your head and tense each muscle group for 1 second and then relax them for 5 seconds. Your attention shifts as you progress.
  • For example:
    • Tense the muscles in your face
    • Relax the muscles in your face
  • Focus your attention on the back of your eyelids
  • Tense the back of your head
    • Relax the back of your head
  • Tense your neck and shoulders
    • Relax your neck and shoulders
  • Tense your arms
    • Relax your arms
  • Now focus on the feeling of your hands in your lap
  • Tense your chest muscles
    • Relax your chest muscles
  • Tense your back muscles
    • Relax your back muscles
  • Tense your abs
    • Relax your abs
  • Tense your thighs
    • Relax your thighs
  • Tense your calves
    • Relax your calves
  • Tense your feet
    • Relax your feet
  • Focus on the feeling and sensations of the bottom of your feet
  • Now switch your focus to any sounds in the room
  • Now try to release your focus completely
  • If you had your eyes closed, gently open them.
  • Think about how you are feeling now compared before the exercise, do you feel less tension?

Not only can the act of practicing PMR be beneficial for your muscles, but taking a few peaceful moments to concentrate on yourself can also help Manage stress. If you have an opportunity to practice PMR in the workplace, you may find yourself less tense or stressed, making you less likely to experience uncomfortable negative emotions. 

For other ideas, see Relaxing break activities

Contributors include.articlesDr. Joti SamraMary Ann BayntonWorkplace Strategies team 2007-2021

Related articles.articles

Article tags.articles

Choose an option to filter.articles


To add a comment.comments