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Using PMR to manage stress

Progressive Muscle Relaxation, or PMR for short, is a wonderful, easy-to-use technique which can be a powerful way of managing stress and anxiety. It’s also highly effective for insomnia, and can furthermore be helpful for managing certain kinds of physical pain. Based on the proven connection between mind and body, it works because when the body is at ease, so necessarily, is the mind. When the body is progressively relaxed, the mind and brain relaxes, and it becomes impossible to feel anxious, worried, or tense. PMR can be a straightforward, practical, drug-free way of managing many of the symptoms emergent from the stresses and strains of modern life, and can also help as an adjunct to many kinds of medical therapy. You can use PMR when you’re lying in bed, sitting on the sofa, or even sitting at your desk on a quiet lunch break. It takes around 10-15 minutes, although even just 5 minutes can make an enormous difference to your body and mind.

The way I teach my clients to use this simple powerful method is to sit or lie comfortably. Curl and point your toes downwards as hard as you can, and hold this for the count of 5. Focus on this sensation: toe and foot muscles only. Now let go and relax. Next, flex your feet upwards and hold this as hard as is comfortable for the count of 5. Then relax. Notice the warm, eased feeling in your feet and ankles. Now tense both of your legs as if you were pointing them both away from you as hard as you can. Hold this for the count of 5. Relax. Next, tense your buttock muscles for the count of 5, then relax. Make sure you’re breathing comfortably and calmly during these moments of relaxation, and prior to tensing the next muscle group. Now notice your tummy muscles and tense them as if you’re bracing yourself to be hit by a ball. Hold them as hard as you can for the count of 5, then relax. Now clench both your fists, and hold for 5. Relax. Moving up the arm, tense your biceps by pulling your fists upwards. Relax. Now tense your whole arm the other way by flexing it outwards in a long, open movement. And relax. Draw your attention to your upper body and shoulders. Lift and tense your shoulders, pulling them up hard and trying to touch your ears for the count of 5, before gently letting them drop down again. Notice this easing tension across your shoulders and neck. Now pay attention to your head and face. Clench your teeth together and feel this tension in your jaw and ears for the count of 5, then relax, letting your jaw hang slightly. Now make the widest grin you can and hold this, again, for 5, then relax. Finally, raise your eyebrows as high as they can go, feeling this stretch in your forehead and temples. Count to 5, then relax. By now you will be feeling a warm, relaxed sensation in your whole body, and your mind will have calmed. Any anxiety present prior to doing this exercise will have eased, and should you wish to, your body is now primed for deep relaxation and even sleep. If you wish, you can repeat this entire exercise, as many times as you like to achieve a state of even deeper mental and physical calm.

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