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Stress is a part of nearly everyone’s life at one point of time or another- acute stress is a normal feeling. But while some suffer from acute stress, some others suffer from a more serious stress condition- chronic stress.
When under chronic stress, your body releases hormones that caution your brain, leading your muscles to tense and increase your pulse, which could cause restlessness, pessimism, fatigue, annoyance and worry, most often starting with the mind and resulting in physical discomfort like headaches, gut issues among many others. Over time, chronic stress puts you at risk for health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, depression or anxiety, skin problems.
We may not be able to disable stress altogether in our lives, but we could choose better responses in stress management. While there are many de-stressing techniques including yoga and meditation, this exercise form, “Progressive Muscle Relaxation” is one of the most effective techniques in combating stress and is also highly recommended by practitioners and advised by the Harvard Medical School for some conditions. Dr. Edmund Jacobson invented this technique in the 1930s as a way to help his patients deal with anxiety. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a physical exercise form but it is instrumental in easing the mind too.
For PMR you need:
- 15 to 20 minutes
- A quiet place free from distractions and diversions
- A set of comfortable, preferably loose clothing
How PMR works- The technique:
PMR broadly comprises of two steps- Tensing and Relaxing the muscles. Find a comfortable lying position. Loosen up the whole body before you start. Shut your eyes.
Step 1– Apply muscle tension to a specific part of the body. Watch your breathing- Inhale when you contract the muscle, feel the muscle getting tense and tighter. Hold the contraction for about 15 seconds. Do take care not to hurt yourself by tensing your muscles too much, you should feel no intense pain. Tighten, don’t strain.
Step 2– Relax the contraction slowly. Exhale while you slowly release the tension in that muscle over 30 seconds. Feel the relaxation in the muscle as you sense the stressful feeling flow out of your body. Take a short break of 10 to 20 seconds before you move to the next muscle.
Follow the above two steps focusing on each part at a time as guided under; in a specific order, forehead to feet or in the reverse order.
Forehead– Raise your eyebrows as much as you can. Hold and release.
Eyes– Shut your eyelids tightly. Hold and release.
Mouth– Press your lips tightly, hold and release. Press your tongue firmly against the roof, hold and release. With your mouth wide open, feel the stretch up to the jaw hinges, hold and release. Smile as widely as you can. Hold and release.
Shoulders– Tighten your shoulders as you shrug them upwards to your ears so you feel the pressure on your neck. Hold and release.
Stomach– Suck your stomach in. Hold and release.
Arms and Hands– Clench your right fist, flex your bicep, tighten your arm and fold at the elbow, hold and release. Follow the same with the left hand.
Buttocks– Contract by pulling your buttocks together. Hold and release.
Legs– Tighten your thigh and calf muscles by stretching toes upwards. Hold and release.
Feet– Curl your toes downwards and feel the tension. Hold and release.
PMR is evidence-based- Studies show that PMR produces significant reductions in tension levels and hence it is considered as a caring intervention technique and a form of complementary therapy for ailments such as multiple sclerosis, insomnia, arthritis, epilepsy and anxiety neurosis to name a few.
Guided PMR– It is helpful and easier to listen to someone guide you through the steps in the PMR. You could find audio CDs that explain and take you through it very smoothly. Alternatively, you could learn by watching the technique on YouTube videos or have your therapist guide you through it once. Gradually, you could master this technique with regular practice. And if practiced correctly as prescribed, you could fall asleep soon as you finish.
-Must be avoided in the parts of the body that have chronic pain.
-Must be avoided if you have hypertension.
-Consult your medical practitioner if you have any severe bone condition or any other medical ailment for which you have been advised to limit physical activity.