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Progressive Relaxation to Help Stress and Anxiety

January 04, 2018

Do you hold on to stress physically?

Do you have tight or stiff muscles, jaw pain or frequent headaches?

A lot of people hold on to stress in their bodies without even noticing it. Over time, this can lead to chronic tension, stiffness, pain, and even disruptions in your mood or sleep.

If this sounds like you, you can use progressive relaxation techniques to retrain your body to relax and experience less stress.

Progressive relaxation can even help anxiety or insomnia caused by stress. Take a moment right now to notice to where you’re feeling stress in your body.

Signs of Physical Stress to Watch For

Furrowed Brow/ Eye Strain – This is a sign you’re holding stress in your eye muscles or forehead. It’s common in people who do computer or smart phone work, or who have eye strain from long hours.

Headaches – Tension headaches are caused by stress and muscle contractions in the head and neck. Migraines can also be triggered by stress.

Neck and Shoulder Tension – Do you have knots in your shoulders or neck? This is common in people working on computers, drivers and workers who do carpentry, painting or construction. Some people experience neck and shoulder tension from emotional stress, too.

Pain in the wrists or hands – This is a common symptom of repetitive strain caused by muscle stress and overwork.

Tight Chest/Difficulty Breathing – Stress can cause you to take shallow breaths, not allowing for full oxygen flow through your body. This can lead to shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, even dizziness or hyperventilation in extreme cases.

Abdominal Cramps/ Spasms – Stress causes some people to get sick to their stomach, literally! Holding in stress can cause digestive spasms, gas pains, Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms, or diarrhea in susceptible people.

Back pain – Muscular back pain and spasms are both brought on and worsened by stress.

Leg cramps – This can be a sign of mineral imbalance or the result of carrying stress in your lower body.

Use Progressive Relaxation To Release Physical Stress

Progressive relaxation was developed in 1920 by Dr. Edmund Jacobsen to help his clients deal with anxiety. Dr. Jacobsen felt that relaxing the muscles could also help calm the mind.

If you’re suffering from physical stress, progressive relaxation techniques help you better control your reactions and calm symptoms like tense muscles, headaches, or IBS reactions.

Progressive Relaxation Techniques to Try

Technique 1. Quick Release

Take relaxed, controlled breaths. When breathing in, notice where you are holding on to stress in your body. Breathe out, releasing this stress.

Focus on deeply relaxing the parts of your body where you need the most support. Practice this technique for 5-10 minutes any time you need a break or notice you’re feeling physical stress.

I like to listen to soft music or use guided imagery while performing this technique.

Technique 2. Full Body Progressive Relaxation

Start with your head muscles and work your way down to your feet. First, tense each of the listed muscle groups to the point of slight discomfort for a few minutes (or whatever works for you).

Try to isolate the muscles you’re working on. After you tense, actively relax the muscle group for a few minutes.

Pay attention to how different this feels. Try this technique while lying down quietly for 20-30 minutes for the best results.

First tense and then deeply relax your:

  • Eyes, facial muscles and jaw
  • Neck, shoulders
  • Arms and hands
  • Chest muscles
  • Back muscles
  • Stomach and abdomen
  • Buttocks, hips
  • Upper and lower legs
  • Feet

Round Up

Using progressive relaxation can be a very enlightening experience. You may be shocked at how much stress you’re carrying in your body!

When you practice the technique for awhile, you will notice how much better you feel, physically and mentally. You may find you even sleep better.

Learning to relax your muscles is an easy way to ensure less daily stress and a deep, relaxing sleep.


How to do progressive relaxation. (2017). Retrieved from Anxiety BC,
Types of relaxation techniques. (1998-2017). Retrieved from Mayo Clinic,
What is Jacobsen’s relaxation technique? (2005-2017). Retrieved from Healthline,