Progressive Muscle Relaxation for Stress Relief

The concept behind progressive muscle relaxation is the sequential tensing and relaxing of muscle groups in the body.  This is done in order to bring self awareness to muscle tension to help control anxiety and stress.

It is said that progressive muscle relaxation has positive health benefits in cases of hypertension, insomnia, ulcers and anxiety attacks.

When the muscles are relaxed, less oxygen is used up and so oxygen now flows to other areas of the body. Tension is reduced in the body and the heart rate slows down and a feeling of relaxation and calm comes over your body.

When doing progressive muscle relaxation, you are required to sit or lie down in a comfortable position and close your eyes.  Concentrate on the muscles in your legs, abdomen, chest, arms and face and the feelings of tension and relaxation that come from holding and releasing these muscles.

Tension is placed on each muscle for 10 seconds and then released for 20 seconds and then repeated with the next muscle group. It is easy for your mind to wander so keep bringing back your focus to the PMR exercise.

Practice makes perfect.  Just like almost everything else, you will have to practice in order to see results.  Don’t give up on the first couple of trys.

Before Starting the
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) Session

  • Choose a time when there are the least possible distractions
  • Choose a quiet place to sit or lay down while doing the relaxation exercise
  • Wear loose comfortable clothes
  • Be consistent. Practice same time daily, whether early in the morning or just before bed
  • Practice before meal time
  • Don’t get too caught up in the details and worry about trying to relax. Simply let it happen
  • If your mind wanders bring it right back to focusing on inhale, tension, exhale, release

Reduce Stress Through PMR 

At first, take a few minutes to practice by identifying and holding and releasing the various muscle groups in order to be effective when it’s time to start the exercise.

When you’re ready to start the Progressive Muscle Relaxation exercise, take some deep breaths. Breathe in through your nostrils and exhale through your mouth.  Repeat twice

From your head to toe, tense or tighten up your muscles for 10 seconds while inhaling and then exhale and release or relax your muscles for 20 seconds.

Tense the muscles without straining.

courtesy of Johns Hopkins Rheumatology

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PMR from Head to Toe


Squeeze the muscles in your forehead only. Basically, knit your brows. It’s something most of us do without even noticing it.  Release & relax for 20 seconds


Squint your eyes til they are almost closed and draw the muscles in your face up.  Release & relax for 20 seconds 


Clench your teethe.  Release & relax for 20 seconds

Neck & Shoulders
Lift your shoulders upwards, almost as if a string from your ears was pulling up your shoulders.  Release & relax for 20 seconds

Arms & Hands

Make a fist and flex your wrist upwards.  Release & relax for 20 seconds


Tighten your core muscles.  Release & relax for 20 seconds

Upper Back

Gently squeeze the shoulder blades together and arch your back so your chest points out.  Release & relax for 20 seconds


Squeeze tightly.  Release & relax for 20 seconds


Raise your legs and stretch them out while still raised.  Release & relax for 20 seconds


Flex your ankles upwards and hold. Release & relax for 20 seconds

While relaxing notice the change from warmth in the various muscle groups. Let go of the pain and the tension in each release.

Take a few deep breaths after finishing with the relaxation exercise and pay keen attention to how you felt before you started the progressive relaxation exercise, during and after.

Practice time should take 30 minutes and over time, less.

If at any time you feel any emotional or physical discomfort when doing this progressive muscle relaxation exercise stop and consult your doctor.

If you have muscle problems consult your doctor before doing these exercises.

After practicing PMR for a while, you will quickly identify when there is tension in your muscles and you will know what to do right away to reduce the tension.