“An anxious mind cannot exist in a relaxed body”.

Dr. Edmond Jacobsen

Muscle tension is a reaction of the body to stress, fear and anxiety. People might say they feel “tense” or “uptight” or develop muscle aches and pains including a tight jaw, tension headaches, backaches or chronic tension in the shoulders and neck.  Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a technique that can be helpful in reducing muscle tension and for achieving a state of relaxation. The technique involves systematically tensing up various muscles then releasing them suddenly and this needs to be practised regularly to gain maximum benefit. Long-term benefits of consistently practising this relaxation technique can include a decrease in generalized anxiety and a decrease in the frequency and duration of panic attacks.

People often develop stress-related symptoms in their workplace or academic environment e.g hunched over computer screens for long periods or straining to meet deadlines. Implementing relaxation techniques can relieve such symptoms. Practising relaxation can help a person under stress to feel better physically, calmer, and become more productive.


Step 1. Prepare for relaxation

  • Select your surroundings. Find a quiet location where you will not be disturbed. Minimise distraction to your five senses.
  • Assume a comfortable position with your whole body supported including your head.
  • Make a decision to put aside your worries.
  • Adopt a “let-it-happen” attitude. Let go.

Step 2. Slow down your breathing

  • Take three deep abdominal breaths, breathing out slowly each time. As you breathe out imagine all the muscle tension in your body flowing out.

Step 3. Tensing and relaxing muscle groups

  • Tense the muscle group described. Ensure that you can feel tension but not a lot of pain.
  • Keep the muscles tensed for about 7 to 10 seconds then release for 15 to 20 seconds. It may be helpful to say “relax” as your let go the tension.


  1. Hands and forearms. Clench your fists…hold…release.
  2. Upper arms A. Bring your forearms up to your shoulders to “make muscles” and tighten your biceps…hold…release.
  3. Upper arms B. Tighten the muscles on the underside  of your upper arms (triceps) by extending both arms out straight and locking your elbows…hold…release.
  4. Forehead. Raise your eyebrows as high as they will go as if you were surprised by something…hold…release.
  5. Eyes and cheeks. Clench your eyelids tightly shut…hold…release.
  6. Mouth and jaw. Tighten your jaw by opening your mouth as wid eas you can, as you might when you yawn…hold…release. Let your lips separate and allow your jaw to “hang loose”.
  7. Neck [with caution!] Face forward then pull your head back slowly, as though you are looking up to the ceiling. Be gentle with this muscle group to avoid injury. Hold. Relax. Repeat if your muscles are particularly tight.
  8. Take a few deep breaths and focus on the weight of your head sinking into whatever surface it is resting on.
  9. Shoulders. Tense your shoulder muscles as you bring your shoulders up towards your ears…hold…release.
  10. Shoulder blades/back. Push your shoulder blades back as if you were going to touch them together…hold…release. Repeat if this muscle group is particularly tense.
  11. Chest. Take in a deep breath, filling your lungs and chest with air…hold…release. Imagine any remaining tension flowing away as you breathe out.
  12. Stomach. “Suck” your stomach in…hold…release. Imagine a wave of relaxation spreading through your abdomen.
  13. Lower back [omit if you have any back problems!] Arch your lower back…hold…release.
  14. Hips and buttocks. Tighten your buttocks by pulling them together…hold…relax. Imagine the muscle sin your hips becoming loose.
  15. Upper legs. Tighten the muscles in your thighs all the way to your knees…hold…release.
  16. Calves. Tighten your calves by pulling your toes toward you, slowly…hold…release.
  17. Feet. Curl your toes downward…hold…release.
  18. Mentally check over your whole body for any residual tension. If a particular muscle group still feels tense repeat tighten-hold-release cycles.
  19. Imagine a wave of relaxation spreading from your head throughout your body and all the way to your toes.

You might like to start by using an audio recording of the instructions for Progressive Muscular Relaxation and later do the exercises from memory.

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