Muscle Relaxation and Anxiety


Stress management techniques like progressive relaxation may help people with anxiety disorders and can be a complementary adjunct to other forms of therapy. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), anxiety disorders are serious and require treatment, unlike brief anxiety, which we all may experience over a short-term stressful event. About 40 million adults in the U.S. suffer from anxiety (about 18 percent), the NIMH notes; however, the good news is that effective treatments are available. Unfortunately, left untreated, many of these disorders worsen.

Muscle Relaxation Benefits

According to Margo Halm, RN, Ph.D., in her article “Relaxation: A Self-Care Healing Modality Reduces Harmful Effects of Anxiety,” with anxious cardiac patients, relaxation techniques can be part of an integrative therapy that reduces over-activity in the sympathetic nervous system. In addition, Halm notes that a relaxed patient will exhibit lower respiration, heart rate and blood pressure, among other benefits. Plus, the only cost is in educating a patient on how to perform the exercises. Even if you do not suffer from clinical anxiety—just occasional stressful periods—these types of relaxation exercises are still beneficial.

Muscle Relaxation Techniques

With practice, progressive muscle relaxation brings awareness about what stress feels like in the body, and helps you learn tools to find relief. If you practice regularly, you can begin to fight tension at the outset. However, though it is the most used, progressive muscle relaxation is not the only muscle relaxation technique that is effective: meditation, massage and visualizations all can be used separately or concurrently.

What to Expect

According the Help Guide website, when you relax, several things take place in the body: Your heart rate slows, your breathing becomes deeper and slows down, and blood pressure stabilizes. Learning how to relax when you really need to can be a powerful anxiety-relieving mechanism that can build over time.

Getting Ready

This exercise is versatile in that in can be done standing, sitting or lying down. It is important to use relaxation techniques not just when you are stressed but to also practice relaxation during non-stressful periods.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation Exercise

Begin by making yourself comfortable and loosening your clothing. Take a few moments to relax and deepen and slow your breathing. First, bring your attention to your right foot. Tense the muscles then fully relax them. Focus on the tension flowing away. When you are ready, shift and do the same with the left foot.

Move slowly up the calves, thighs, buttocks, stomach and chest. Tense the back and release. Bring your shoulders up, then drop them. Clench fists tight and release. Then bring your attention to your arms–tighten arm muscles, and release. When you reach the head, don’t forget the face: close and open your eyes, smile and frown, open your mouth wide, then gently close.

Remember to go slowly and breathe deeply throughout. Afterward, check in and see if any areas are still tense. Repeat the exercise in those specific areas.

About this Author

Assia M. Mortensen is a freelance writer specializing in articles about health, home and the environment. She has 12 years’ experience as an editor and journalist, and has published hundreds of articles in magazines and newspapers. Her pieces have been published in The Santa Barbara Independent, Frontiers Magazine, 805 Living Magazine, the Huffington, LIVESTRONG and many other outlets.