Stress is a part of daily modern life and affects everyone. Whether it’s stress related to work or personal lives, it can take a toll on the mind and body. It’s necessary to find ways to cope and manage stress, especially in early recovery from addiction or while working to improve mental health. Progressive muscle relaxation therapy is one way to do that.
What Is Progressive Muscle Relaxation Therapy?
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) therapy is a relaxation practice that focuses on the connection between the mind and body. It is a type of therapy that reduces the effects of everyday stress on the body and the symptoms of stress like anxiety and insomnia. Research supports the concept of the mind body connection for better overall health. PMR works by tensing each muscle group and then releasing the tension and going into a completely relaxed state.
Edmund Jacobson first coined the term for the practice in the 1930s based on the idea that a physically relaxed body will lead to a mentally calm mind. At the time, the mind-body connection was still a relatively new concept. Nowadays, there is research that supports the idea. The mind-body connection focuses on improving, strengthening, and creating a harmonious relationship between the mind and body to improve overall health.
How Does PMR Work?
Progressive muscle relaxation therapy works by having you create muscle tension and then relax the muscle. Tensing your muscles first allows your body to feel the tightness of the muscle or the stress in the muscle. Then, when you relax, the muscles feel relief from the tension and physical stress. This release of physical stress also relieves mental stress.
When mental or physical stress occurs, it ignites your body’s stress response or a fight-or-flight mode which raises cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone that regulates the body’s physical stress. Signs of the stress response and high cortisol are:
Rapid heart rate or racing heart
Tightened muscles or clenched jaw
High blood pressure
Nausea or digestive issues
PMR works to combat those physical symptoms by relaxing the body and thus the mind. It helps lower the heart rate, calm an uneasy stomach, reduce pain, slow breathing, and lower cortisol levels.
How to Practice
When starting PMR, you should work with a guide to help you learn the correct way to do it. A guide will work with you in a quiet, calm space. First, you will need to get in a comfortable position, preferably lying down. Then, you will want to remove or loosen any restrictive clothing and shoes.
Next, your guide will have you focus on deep breathing a few times to relax. When you’re ready to start, the guide will have you focus on one part of the body at a time. First, you will tighten the muscle in your forehead for 10 to 15 seconds, then release it for 30 seconds and relax the muscle.
Your guide will lead you through the exercises for the rest of your body. You will focus on deep, calming breaths and feel each muscle ease as the tension releases. It’s not uncommon to fall asleep while practicing PMR, which means you are doing it right.
Practice and consistency are crucial to creating a PMR practice. The more you get used to the sequence and sensation of feeling your tense muscles release, the better you will use this practice consistently to manage stress.
Benefits of Progressive Muscle Relaxation Therapy
PMR is a relaxation technique with many benefits. It can help reduce stress and the physical manifestations of stress. Research supports the benefits of progressive muscle relaxation for sleep, as it helped patients combat sleep issues. In addition, research supports the use of PMR to ease back pain, improve blood pressure, and decrease migraines.
The goal of PMR is to calm your body into creating the opposite effect of the body’s stress response. Removing physical and mental stress is the key to a healthy lifestyle.
Manage Anxiety With PMR
Activities and events can be unbearable for those who suffer from social anxiety or general anxiety in daily life. This constant stress, anxiety, and worry have a negative effect on the mind and body and can reduce quality of life.
Intrusive thoughts and excessive anxiety can create physical ailments and affect your overall health. People who suffer from excessive worry and anxiety can feel their muscles tighten and tense. PMR is an excellent way to manage those symptoms. Practiced regularly, PMR can negate the effects of paralyzing anxiety and is an effective tool for anyone suffering from the effects of anxiety disorders.
Guided PMR Practice
When you start practicing progressive muscle relaxation, participating in guided therapy can help you learn to turn your mind off and focus on deep relaxation. Having a trained guide helps you move through the process without fear of injury. And a guide can help you understand the core concept and have a positive experience.
At Core Recovery, we offer progressive muscle therapy as part of our intensive outpatient treatment programs to help you learn how to manage stress, anxiety, and physical pain. Contact our professional team at Core Recovery to learn more about the benefits of PMR in treating depression, anxiety, PTSD and addictions.