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How to Control Stress through Tensing and Relaxing Your Muscles

Part of the Stress Management For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Looking for a way to control stress? Progressive relaxation, which involves systematically tensing and relaxing your muscles, is a healthful way to release muscle tension and a proven approach to a more relaxed, less stressful state. Follow these steps for a calmer, more collected you:

  1. Lie down or sit, as comfortably as you can, and close your eyes.

    Find a quiet, dimly lit place that gives you some privacy, at least for a while.

  2. Tense the muscles of a particular body part.

    Begin by simply making a fist. As you clench your fist, notice the tension and strain in your hand and forearm. Without releasing that tension, bend your right arm and flex your biceps, making a muscle the way you might to impress the kids in the schoolyard.

    Don't strain yourself in any of these muscle-tensing maneuvers; don't overdo
    it. When you tense a muscle group, don't tense as hard as you can. Tense about three-quarters of what you can do. If you feel pain or soreness, ease up on the tension, and if you still hurt, defer your practice till another time.

  3. Hold the tension in the body part for about seven seconds.

  4. Let go of the tension quickly, letting the muscles go limp.

    Notice the difference in how your hand and arm feel. Notice the difference between sensations of tension and relaxation. Let these feelings of relaxation deepen for about 30 seconds.

  5. Repeat Steps 1 through 4, using the same muscle group.

  6. Move to another muscle group.

    Simply repeat Steps 1 through 4, substituting a different muscle group each time. Continue with your left hand and arm, and then work your way through other major muscle groups.

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