Relieve everyday anxiety, release muscle tension and soothe your stomach with this powerful 15-minute relaxation technique
Ever notice your shoulders creeping up towards your ears when there’s a deadline looming or your jaw clenching when you’re in an uncomfortable situation? Let’s face it, most of us have probably experienced this more often than not this year.
However, tense muscles are a sign of stress which is a major cause of abdominal discomfort and many digestive conditions including IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
But how can we eliminate stress? Well, stress is an inevitable part of life and can actually be useful by releasing the adrenaline hormone to help drive you forward, feel more energised and achieve results e.g. meeting that Monday morning deadline. But if we experience too much of it or for a prolonged period of time, it becomes ‘chronic stress’ and can be detrimental to your physical and mental health. If stress starts to become overwhelming or get in the way of your life, this is when it needs to be addressed.
Good news — there’s a natural way to learn to relax your muscles, reduce stress and promote healthy digestion.
Enter: progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) — an anxiety-reduction technique first introduced by American physician Edmund Jacobson in the 1930s, it involves alternating tension and relaxation within all of the body’s major muscle groups to help you to differentiate between these two states. Hopefully, you will become more aware of and release unnecessary tension in your body.
Research shows that PMR is a powerful tool for allowing the brain to turn off the stress response and the digestive system to work more smoothly, reducing the likelihood of abdominal discomfort. A regular practice can provide health benefits including reduced anxiety, muscle tension and fatigue as well as increased productivity, concentration, self-confidence and improved sleep.
I can attest that this is particularly effective before going to bed. So, let’s get to it…
How to practice progressive muscle relaxation
Firstly, set aside 15 minutes and find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Lie on the floor or on your bed or sit in a comfortable chair, making sure your head and arms are supported. Loosen any tight clothing e.g. ties, belts and remove glasses or contacts and shoes. Get comfortable, close your eyes and take a moment to notice your breathing. Take a few slow deep breaths.
Next, focus your attention on the following areas of your body while being mindful to leave the rest of your body relaxed. Continue to breathe evenly and slowly.
1. Lower arms: Make a tight fist with each hand, but don’t let your fingernails dig into your palms. Notice the tension around your knuckles and along your forearm. Hold this for 2-3 seconds, then release and allow your arms to sink down into the ground or on the arm of the chair. Concentrate on the feelings of relaxation in your muscles while you say to yourself: “Relax.”
2. Upper arms: Push your elbows into the ground or arm of the chair, making sure not to tense the lower arms. Feel the tension in your upper arms for 2-3 seconds. Again, release and say: “Relax.”
3. Face (do these three exercises simultaneously):
- Raise your eyebrows as much as possible with your eyes closed (Not too hard or this will cause your eyes to ache). Feel the tension in your forehead.
- Screw up your eyes and wrinkle your nose. Notice the tension in your cheeks and around your eyes.
- Pull back the corners of your mouth to form a grimace (don’t worry, nobody is looking)! Feel the tension in your jaw and cheeks. Now, release all of these areas and say: “Relax.”
4. Neck: Push your chin down towards your chest, without it actually touching. Feel the tension in your neck. Then — you guessed it — release and say: “Relax.”
5. Chest, shoulders, back: Push your shoulders back into the ground or the chair and notice the tension in your chest, shoulders and upper back. Now, release and say: “Relax.”
6. Stomach: Activate and pull in your tummy muscles while holding your breath for 2-3 seconds. Release your breath as you relax and say: “Relax.”
- Right leg first — straighten your whole leg by lifting it off the ground, flex your foot and point your toes upwards. Feel the tension all down your leg and in your foot. Let it sink down to the floor.
- Repeat this with your left leg. Then say: “Relax”.
The more you practice these exercises, the more automatic relaxation will become to you. The idea is that, eventually, you should be able to release all of your muscles at once, just by telling yourself to “Relax.” The best thing — you can do this whatever situation you’re in e.g. at your desk, in the shops and no one will bat an eyelid!
Have you tried progressive muscle relaxation? What techniques work for you? Get in touch.
While PMR may help to alleviate your stress, it should not be used as a substitute for medical care. Consult a medical professional if you are concerned about your health.