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The Progressive Muscle Relaxation technique (PMR) serves as an effective antidote for stress.  Join IMCS Clinical Psychologist Bunny Falk, R.N., Psy.D., for an explanation and exploration of this technique, its benefits and exercises that teach you how to alleviate stress.

What is the Progressive Muscle Relaxation technique?

Developed by Dr. Edmond Jacobson in 1929, PMR reduces muscle tension through intervals of muscle-tensing activities, stress-releasing phases and mental recognition in the difference in sensation between tense and relaxed. Our bodies respond to stress-provoking thoughts and events by tensing muscles, thereby increasing our subjective experience of stress. PMR provides relief because stress response and relaxation are incompatible and cannot occur at the same time. By purposefully switching between tension and flexion the body releases the muscles.

Benefits of using this technique

PMR can be done almost anywhere, at any time and is an easy technique to help you care for yourself during stressful times. It is a valuable strategy for reducing tension and managing

  1. Tension headaches
  2. Tender shoulder and neck muscle pain
  3. Achiness that accompanies muscle tension

The more often PMR is practiced, especially when you’re not feeling stressed, the better the response will be when you are feeling stressed. 

*Remember, stress response and relaxation are concurrently incompatible. 

Stress-relief exercise:

Throughout this exercise, you’ll tense different muscle groups for five to seven seconds and then relax them for 20-30 seconds before moving on to the next group of muscles.

While you un-tense each muscle group, it’s helpful to say to yourself, “Let go of the tension” or “I’m feeling calm and rested.” Notice the difference as your body feels quickly releases the tension in each muscle group.

You can practice PMR either sitting or lying down. Begin by taking a slow, deep breath in through your nose, and then slowly exhale through your mouth. Do this three times.

Now, perform the exercises as follows:  

  • Curl your fists tightly, tighten your biceps and forearms. Hold for 5-7 seconds. Let go and relax for 20-30 seconds.
  • Wrinkle your forehead and put your head back. Now, roll your head slowly clockwise in a complete circle and then in reverse. Force your face into a frown, squint your eyes tightly, purse your lips, hunch your shoulders. Hold. Let go and relax.
  • Take a deep breath, arch your back and expand your chest. Hold your breath to the count of three. Exhale. Relax.
  • Take a deep breath and push out your stomach. Hold the breath and slowly count to 3. Let it go and relax.
  • Flex your feet and toes by pointing your toes toward your shins, now tighten your shins. Hold. Let go and relax.
  • Curl your toes and tighten your calves, thighs and butt. Hold. Let go and relax.
  • Assess your body for any residual tension. If you feel any, repeat the tense-and-relax exercise for that muscle group.

For more small group exercises and practice in clear communication, be sure to read more in our Practice Exercises blog series and learn more about cognitive behavioral therapy techniques that change outcomes.

Bunny Falk,. R.N., Psy.D., Assistant Provider Medical Director provides clinical oversight to IMCS’s national provider network where she develops policies and procedures for best clinical practices and ethical guidelines as Chairperson of the IMCS Credentialing Committee. With more than 33 years in private practice, Dr. Falk has held clinical, teaching and consulting positions at several universities and healthcare companies, including Nova Southeastern University, Magellan Health and University of Miami Behavioral Health.

IMCS – Integrated Medical Case Solutions – is the premier behavioral medicine network for pain and trauma response with evidence-based outcomes and a proven track record for transforming workers’ compensation cases. IMCS makes intervention efficient with a national network of 1,500+ psychologists and psychiatrists in all 50 states.