While stress definitely affects your mind and emotions, it also affects your body. The more stressed you are, the more tense you are physically and the more strain there is exerted on your body. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress both mentally and physically, but so is relaxing your muscles. The following muscle relaxation techniques were developed in the 1920s by physician Edmund Jacobson. This activity can significantly reduce anxiety and stress.
Sit in a comfortable chair. Get as comfortable as possible–no tight clothes, no shoes, don’t cross your legs. Take a deep breath; let it out slowly. Again. What you’ll be doing is alternately tensing and relaxing specific groups of muscles. After tension, a muscle will be more relaxed than prior to the tensing. Concentrate on the feel of the muscles, specifically the contrast between tension and relaxation. In time, you will recognize tension in any specific muscle and be able to reduce that tension.
Don’t tense muscles other than the specific group at each step. Don’t hold your breath, grit your teeth, or squint! Breathe slowly and evenly and think only about the tension-relaxation contrast. Each tensing is for 10 seconds; each relaxing is for 10 or 15 seconds. Count “1,000 2,000…” until you have a feel for the time span. Note that each step is really two steps–one cycle of tension-relaxation for each set of opposing muscles. Begin with tensing and relaxing your hands, then the muscles in your arms, your face, and continue tensing and relaxing all of your muscles down to your toes.
1) Hands: Tighten your fists; relax them. Extend your fingers; relax them.
2) Biceps and triceps: Make your biceps tense—make a muscle, but shake your hands to make sure they are not tensing into a fist; relax. Make your triceps tense—try to bend your arms the wrong way; relax.
3) Shoulders: Pull them back; relax. Push them forward; relax.
4) Neck (lateral): With your shoulders straight and relaxed, turn your head slowly to the right, as far as you can; relax. Turn your head to the left; relax.
5) Neck (forward): Dig your chin into your chest; relax.
6) Eyes: Open them as wide as possible; relax. Close your eyes tightly; relax. Completely relax your eyes, forehead, and nose after each of the tensings.
7) Breathing: Take as deep of a breath as possible; let it out and breathe normally for 15 seconds. Release all breath from your lungs; inhale and breathe normally for 15 seconds.
8) Back: With shoulders resting on the back of the chair, push your body forward so that your back is arched; relax.
9) Butt: Tense the butt tightly and raise pelvis slightly off of the chair; relax. Dig buttocks into the chair; relax.
10) Thighs: Extend legs and raise them about 6 inches off of the floor, but don’t tense your stomach; relax. Dig your feet into the floor; relax.
11) Stomach: Pull in your stomach as far as possible; relax. Push out your stomach; relax.
12) Calves and feet: Point your toes without raising your legs; relax. Point your feet up as far as possible; relax.
13) Toes: With legs relaxed, dig your toes into the floor; relax. Bend your toes up as far as possible; relax.
Written by Carol Fritz, Peer Educator