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  • Writer's pictureDr Joanne Stuart

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

A very important component of stress is the physical tension we carry around. In fact people who experience high levels of stress and anxiety can be so physically tense much of the time that it becomes their normal physical state.

This exercise has two parts. The first part involves tensing each muscle group so that you become aware of holding physical tension. The second part is a progressive relaxation of each of these muscle groups so that you have the experience of purposefully letting go of tension and being in a more comfortable, restful state.


  • Find a quiet, comfortable place. A reclining chair is ideal as you want to be relaxed but remain awake. Make sure your clothes are comfortable and take off your shoes.

  • Take five nice slow, calm breaths from your stomach.

  • Now you need to consider your muscles in groups; focusing on tensing the muscles in a certain area (for example the hand) before then going on to release this tension.

  • So turn your mind’s attention to your left hand. Slowly and gently tense up the muscles in your hand until your hand is as tight and tense and gripped as you can manage. Hold this tension for five seconds before releasing.

  • Fully release this tension at the same time as breathing out. Spend about fifteen seconds really noticing how relaxing the muscles in your hands feels different from tensing them. Noticing this difference is the most important part of the exercise.

  • After fifteen seconds move on to the next muscle group and repeat the steps of tensing and then relaxing that muscle group.

Muscle groups to focus on:

Foot, lower leg and entire leg; then other foot etc

Hand, entire arm including shoulders; then other hand etc

Buttocks (squeeze)

Stomach (squeeze)

Chest (take deep breath)

Neck and shoulders (tense up to ears)

Mouth (open mouth wide and clench)

Eyes (clench shut)

Forehead (raise eyebrows)

How to make the most of this exercise

  • For the first week do this exercise twice a day. Set aside ten to fifteen minutes in a quiet place. Practicing a lot in the first week will mean that you learn this skill more thoroughly and can then quickly notice when you are holding tension and relax yourself.

  • It is best if this exercise is done when you are feeling calm and rested but it can also be used to reduce tension.

  • You might find it easier to listen to recorded instructions. There are many audio versions of progressive muscle relaxation exercises available on the internet.

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