Stress Less in 10 Minutes (Progressive Muscle Relaxation)
We all feel stressed at times. Sometimes stress spurs you to work harder or perform better, but sometimes your stress goes beyond helpful. The body doesn’t rebalance. Stress becomes anxiety. Anxiety becomes muscle tension and muscle tension becomes pain.
The hands-on approach of physiotherapy or myotherapy is an excellent aid for tension-related muscular pain. But (harsh truth here) your Performance Medicine favourite therapist can’t be kept in your pocket 24/7 ready to attend to you at 3am. So what else can you do?
A recent experience at the NGV* reminded me of my favourite stress release technique: Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). When using this technique a person sequentially tenses then relaxes different muscle groups. This teaches a person to become more physically aware, allowing them to recognise and release the body’s tension. Stop for a moment and check in – where are your shoulders right now? Are you breathing fully? How tightly are you holding your jaw? Can you let these tension go? PMR helps you notice where tensions are hiding in your body, while also giving you control over your stress levels and anxiety, and thereby your muscle tension. It can be helpful to calm down after a long day at work, before and after a stressful situation, or help you sleep.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation: How do you do it?
Put aside 15-20 minutes. Find a quiet space with no distractions. Make yourself comfortable. Sit or lie down. Loose clothing and shoes off are helpful.
Slow your breathing. Breath in (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and breath out (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
When you are ready, tense the specific muscle group. Ensure you can feel tension (there may be some shaking!) but not pain. Hold 5 seconds. Breath out and relax the muscle group. Keep it relaxed (limp and loose) for 10 seconds. Focus on the difference between tension and relaxation. How good does it feel to be relaxed? Move onto the next muscle group and repeat the tension/relaxation sequence.
When you have completed all the muscle groups, remain in your comfy position and enjoy some time in your relaxed body.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation: The Sequence:
Foot (curl your toes downward)
Lower leg and foot (tighten your calf muscle by pulling toes towards you)
Entire leg (squeeze thigh muscles while doing above)
(Repeat on other side of body)
Hand and forearm (clench your fist)
Entire arm (bring your forearm up towards your shoulder and “make a muscle”, while clenching fist)
(Repeat on other side of body)
Buttocks (tighten by pulling your buttocks together)
Stomach (suck your stomach in)
Chest (tighten by taking a deep breath)
Neck and shoulders (raise your shoulders up to touch your ears)
Shoulder blades/Back (Push your shoulder blades back as if you were trying to touch them together)
Mouth (open your mouth wide enough to stretch the hinges of your jaw)
Eyes (clench your eyelids tightly shut)
Forehead (raise your eyebrows as far as you can)
(Adapted from Progressive Muscle Relaxation by Centre for Clinical Interventions)
Practise makes nearly perfect. Have a go every day for two weeks to get used to the sequence and feeling. In time the relaxation will come to you faster.
Prefer an audio cue? The Melbourne University of Melbourne (2014) has a good Progressive Muscle Relaxation recording to guide you here (add the following link:http://services.unimelb.edu.au/counsel/resources/audio/progressive_muscle_relaxation Or; record your own script or ask somebody with a lovely voice to read you through it using this script (use this link: https://www.law.berkeley.edu/files/Progressive_Muscle_Relaxation.pdf)
Take care not to hurt yourself while tensing your muscles. You should never feel intense or shooting pain while completing this exercise.
So get to it. Find that inner calm. If you still need a helping hand, the Performance Medicine team is here to help.