What Is Progressive Muscle Relaxation?
In learning to reduce stress, some individuals opt for simple techniques that can be done anytime, anywhere. One such technique is Progressive Muscle Relaxation or PMR. PMR can be done at your desk during work hours, while on a break, before going to sleep, or whenever you feel tense. PMR works well with head, shoulder, and neck tension.
PMR is a stress reduction technique whereby muscles are tensed and relaxed throughout the body to reduce stress. The individual who does PMR should not only tense and relax their muscles but they should also pay attention to the feelings experienced during tensing and relaxing. Most individuals are tense during their waking hours and to some degree learn to adapt to this tension. The goal of PMR however, is to achieve a reduction of the tension far below this adaptive level.
The cognitive-behavioral theory related to PMR suggests that there are several ways PMR can reduce stress. These include tension relief which indicate positive sensations that increase feeling relaxed, disengagement from thoughts, and lastly, mentally focusing on other external stimuli to refocus energy away from the stressor.
PMR does appear to have support in the therapeutic community as it is rather simple to learn and simple to teach others. In addition, PMR does not involve the need for extra equipment or large spaces. PMR has been shown to decrease levels of anxiety, lower cortisol levels (cortisol is the stress hormone), and decreased sensitivity to pain.
Exactly how PMR works is relatively unknown. One theory exists that states there are many diseases which stem from negative emotional states including neuromuscular hypertension. When an individual flex a muscle, skeletal muscle fibers are contracted and the individual feels muscle tension. This is partly due to the idea that a flexed or tense muscle does not receive any oxygen whereby decreasing blood flow to the muscle and causing the tension.
There are many systems activated during PMR including the central and peripheral nervous systems. During tension, the autonomic nervous system is activated firing sympathetic and parasympathetic nerve fibers. PMR may shift the body’s system towards a trophotropic response which means returning the body to a relaxed state. Tension is the contraction of nerve fibers and relaxation is the lengthening of those fibers. The lengthening of the nerve fibers eliminates the tension. During PMR, when the muscles are in a relaxed state, the tension subsides.