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Stress Management: Doing Progressive Muscle Relaxation


When you have anxiety or stress in your life, one of the ways your body responds is with tense muscles. Progressive muscle relaxation helps you relieve this tension.

To do it, you tense a group of muscles as you breathe in, and you relax them as you breathe out. You follow a certain order as you work through the muscle groups in your body.

Practicing progressive muscle relaxation for a few weeks will help you get better at this skill. In time you will be able to use this method to relieve stress.

How do you do progressive muscle relaxation?

Choose a place where you can lie on your back and stretch out comfortably, such as a carpeted floor or a bed. Use these instructions to tense and relax muscle groups. The muscle groups, what you do, and the order you will work through the muscle groups are noted after the instructions.

When you first start, it may help to listen to a recording or an online video until you learn all the muscle groups in order.

  1. Breathe in, and tense the first muscle group for 4 to 10 seconds.

    Tense the muscle group hard but not to the point of pain or cramping.

  2. Breathe out suddenly, and completely relax the muscle group.

    Do not breathe out and relax gradually. Do it quickly!

  3. Relax for 10 to 20 seconds.

    Notice the difference between how the muscles feel when they are tense and how they feel when they are relaxed.

  4. Follow the first three steps for each muscle group.
  5. When you are finished with all of the muscle groups, count backward from 5 to 1 to bring your focus back to the present.

    After you have learned how to tense and relax each muscle group, here's something else to try. When you have a very tense muscle, you can practice tensing and relaxing that muscle area without going through the whole routine.

    Muscle groups and how to tense them

    Muscle group

    What to do


    Clench them.

    Wrists and forearms

    Extend them, and bend your hands back at the wrist.

    Biceps and upper arms

    Clench your hands into fists, bend your arms at the elbows, and flex your biceps.


    Shrug them (raise toward your ears).


    Wrinkle it into a deep frown.

    Around the eyes and bridge of the nose.

    Close your eyes as tightly as you can. Remove contact lenses before you start the exercise.

    Cheeks and jaws

    Smile as widely as you can.

    Around the mouth

    Press your lips together tightly. (Check your face for tension. You just want to use your lips.)

    Back of the neck

    Press the back of your head against the floor or chair.

    Front of the neck

    Touch your chin to your chest. (Try not to create tension in your neck and head.)


    Take a deep breath, and hold it for 4 to 10 seconds.


    Arch your back up and away from the floor or chair.


    Suck it into a tight knot. (Check your chest and stomach for tension.)

    Hips and buttocks

    Press your buttocks together tightly.


    Clench them hard.

    Lower legs

    Point your toes toward your face. Then point your toes away, and curl them downward at the same time. (Check the area from your waist down for tension.)


Current as of: June 24, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
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