Progressive muscle relaxation is a known relaxation technique. It was developed by American physician Edmund Jacobson around 19391. The argument is that since muscular tension accompanies anxiety, relaxing muscular tension will reduce it. While performing the exercise, don’t tense the muscle too much and don’t tense muscles that are not at the specific group mention at each step. The muscles should be more relaxed after releasing tension than before it was applied to that group. Sit comfortably in a chair or lie down. Do a number of slow breaths. Then move in the following progression2:
- Hands. The fists are tensed; relaxed. The fingers are extended; relaxed.
- Biceps and triceps. The biceps are tensed (make a muscle – but shake your hands to make sure not tensing them into a fist); relaxed (drop your arm to the chair). The triceps are tensed (try to bend your arms the wrong way); relaxed (drop them).
- Shoulders. Pull them back (careful with this one); relax them. Push the shoulders forward (hunch); relax.
- Neck (lateral). With the shoulders straight and relaxed, the head is turned slowly to the right, as far as you can; relax. Turn to the left; relax.
- Neck (forward). Dig your chin into your chest; relax. (bringing the head back is not recommended – you could break your neck).
- Mouth. The mouth is opened as far as possible; relaxed. The lips are brought together or pursed as tightly as possible; relaxed.
- Tongue (extended and retracted). With mouth open, extend the tongue as far as possible; relax (let it sit in the bottom of your mouth). Bring it back in your throat as far as possible; relax.
- Tongue (roof and floor). Dig your tongue into the roof of your mouth; relax. Dig it into the bottom of your mouth; relax.
- Eyes. Open them as wide as possible (furrow your brow); relax. Close your eyes tightly (squint); relax. Make sure you completely relax the eyes, forehead, and nose after each of the tensings.
- Breathing. Take as deep a breath as possible – and then take a little more; let it out and breathe normally for 15 seconds. Let all the breath in your lungs out – and then a little more; inhale and breathe normally for 15 seconds.
- Back. With shoulders resting on the back of the chair, push your body forward so that your back is arched; relax. Be very careful with this one, or don’t do it at all.
- Butt. Tense the butt tightly and raise pelvis slightly off chair; relax. Dig buttocks into chair; relax.
- Thighs. Extend legs and raise them about 6in. off the floor or the foot rest but don’t tense the stomach’ relax. Dig your feet (heels) into the floor or foot rest; relax.
- Stomach. Pull in the stomach as far as possible; relax completely. Push out the stomach or tense it as if you were preparing for a punch in the gut; relax.
- Calves and feet. Point the toes (without raising the legs); relax. Point the feet up as far as possible (beware of cramps – if you get them or feel them coming on, shake them loose); relax.
- Toes. With legs relaxed, dig your toes into the floor; relax. Bend the toes up as far as possible; relax.
1 Jacobson, E. (1938). Progressive relaxation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.