Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Take it or leave it... I am not sure we have a choice...  It could be in how we deal with it..

Lately I have found that many people are seeking methods to reduce stress and question if they can get any handle on their tension, anxiety and sometimes panic attacks. No, there really isn’t any one step, sure fire solution nor are there any real fifteen minute cures. What I am going to discuss is not “therapy” nor is it a replacement for formal therapy options….

But, what I am going to talk about will help reduce your tension and help relax you. What I am going to discuss is a technique developed by Dr. Edmond Jacobson in 1929.. A process called Progressive Neuromuscular Muscle Relaxation.

Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique which involves the systematic flexing and relaxing of tensed muscle groups. It’s a process which relieves us of the body’s typical “fight or flight” response.

We all know that stress and anxiety produce tension and this tension affects muscle. We walk around with clenched jaws, furrow foreheads, and knots in our shoulders on a daily basis. We all feel its affect.

Yes, daily living can produce anxiety and stress, which in turn produce muscle tension. Is it reasonable to assume the inverse? Can we assume that relaxing specific muscle groups will have a direct effect on reducing the impact of anxiety and stress we find in daily living?

Dr. Jacobson believed so and so do many experts in today’s health and wellness fields. It is a belief that an anxious mind is not able to coexist within a relaxed body. Sort of makes sense doesn’t it?

Many individuals have difficulty differentiating between muscles that are tense and muscles that are relaxed. It's like when you give a foot massage and you ask the person to relax their ankle and they reply, “It is.” Yet, you are perfectly aware it isn’t.

The ankle and foot remain stiff as a board…. They have been in this state for so long they do not remember how it was to feel “relaxed”. You then have to move the ankle for them in order for that muscle group to remember and then they can “feel” the difference. Slowly at first but it soon gives up the fight.

Progressive muscle relaxation helps the person to recognize this difference; the difference between when a muscle group is relaxed and when it isn’t.

I am sure you have experienced this before but maybe you have not been aware of its benefits. It is in alternating the tension and the relaxation of certain muscle groups in order for you to both cognitively and physically understand the difference.

It’s easy... Just select a muscle group and tense them as hard as you can for 10 seconds or so. Any muscle group, like your fist, tense it then let it relax. As you release the muscles in your hand, you will immediately be able to feel the contrast between the tension and the relaxation. While doing so, focus on how that group of muscle feels to you.

Note the physical manifestation in your body. Feel the tension. Feel the strength. As you release the tension, focus on the changes your body undergoes as you relax these muscles. Feel your muscles release and the tension leave this area.

If you are really serious, continue with the rest of your body. Start with your major muscle groups such as arms, legs and abdomen. Then progress to your finger, forearms, toes, calves, neck, and jaw. You will soon come to identify how each of these muscle groups feel as they tense and then relax. Some individuals start at either end of their body and move progressively up or down….

Where you start is really up to you. Done regularly you will be able to experience a progressively relaxed state in your body. You will find yourself less uptight, less irritable and maybe even more approachable.

This technique can be used at the onset of a “panic attack” and keep it from progressing to its full extent. It can be a tool to keep you focused and get you through some very tough spots. To begin with it feels foreign but soon it can become as automatic as breathing, especially if you use a breathing technique along with it. As you tighten the muscle, breathe slowing in through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth as you release the tension in the selected muscle group.

This technique will take you approximately 10 seconds to complete a cycle. It takes your focus away from overwhelming feelings and thoughts, directing them to body functions that naturally reduce tension; belly breathing and muscle relaxation.

Your breathing will naturally slow down, your heat rate will calm, your blood pressure will reduce and your blood flow will go into a more relaxed rhythm instead of a “flight fight” response…. It stands to reason that if these symptoms are reduced or countered, the panic or anxiety is also reduced or avoided.

I know it sound strange but try it. It helps you stay in the moment and away from the “what if” cognitive focus and “fight or flight” body responses.

For best results it is good to set aside a few minutes each day to practice. I take 10-20 minutes before I go to sleep. It helps shed the “uglies” of the day and prepares both my mind and body for a good night’s rest; after you finish the exercise focus once more on your breathing. You should find it flowing, rhythmic and slow. It will be deep as you are using more than the top part of your lungs, as you do in shallow or anxiety ridden breathing.

Pay attention to both your body and your mind, noticing how your body feels compared to before you started the exercise. Remember to be fully present in the moment. Concentrating on your body, your feelings and how they now interact with each other. How they are in harmony instead of dissidence.

No, we don’t really know why progressive relaxation works but we do know that it does. No, it is not a cure but it is a technique that can get you through some really tough spots or minimally a good nights rest….

We all need a little less tension in our lives… Go ahead and give it a try… It is something you CAN do, it doesn’t cost you anything and there are no adverse side effects. The only way it doesn’t work is if you don’t use it. Now, how well does it work?

Well, that is up to you. I do find a direct correlation between use and result…. Like most things…. Use it or lose it…. It’s a simple technique that can produce multiple benefits.

Again, yes, it is a choice…. I have made mine…. It’s your turn to make yours….. What have you got to lose anyway? Tension? What might you gain; a good night’s sleep?

As a long forgotten prophet once said, “If you relieve that pain in your neck you just might not be such a pain the ass to someone else”… It does lose something in the translation but you get the point….

Until later….

No comments: