Want to relax? Tense your muscles

How do you feel when you’re anxious?

Most of us get all worked up. Flighty. Antsy. And tense.

Why do we get tense?

It all comes back to the ‘fight or flight’ response: a biological signal that gets us ready to take action. Either we attack the bear or we run away. (If you’re anything like me, you’ll be getting the hell outta those woods!)

When we receive the signal, our body tenses up. Our muscles grip and get ready to rampage or run.

But what if there isn’t really any threat? What if we’re just nervous about everything? ALL. THE. FREAKING. TIME. Well, the stress response is still triggered. And we stay pent up, a frazzled ball of anxiety. And that state can become our daily norm. Which isn’t very healthy (or fun)!

So what can we do?

The simplest way to relax

Let’s take a leaf out of Dr Edmund Jacobson’s book.

He came up with the Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) technique to help his patients relax their muscles. The idea is that by tensing and releasing your muscles, you can then spot when your ‘fight or flight’ response has been triggered. And by going through the practice below, you’ll ease the tension and calm your body and mind.

It’s a 13-step sequence, starting from the hands to the toes.

Here’s how it works:

1. Focus on one muscle group.

2. Tense the muscles for 10 seconds.

3. Relax the muscles for 10 or 15 seconds.

4. Breathe smoothly during the practice.

5. Do it once a day if you can.

Below is a table with all the steps. I’ve adapted it from a resource provided by the Mental Health Academy.

You can download it as PDF here.

I’ve tried this technique a few times — and it really works!

Next steps

Want more anxiety-busting ideas and inspiration? Check out my free anxiety affirmations and the ‘8 Ways to Worry Less’ checklist.

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