How to reduce stress with progressive muscle relaxation

A simple but effective technique to reduce stress and increase relaxation.

What is progressive muscle relaxation?

Progressive muscle relaxation is a simple technique used to help release tension in the body by individually tensing and releasing different muscle groups. Used for decades, the method was coined by a physician named Edmund Jacobson in the 1930’s and today a wealth of research supports its ability to help reduce anxiety and improve sleep [1] [2] [3].

If you’re feeling tense or stressed, you can try a progressive muscle relaxation exercise to try to help reduce the symptoms – anyone can try it and it’s very easy to do.


Relaxation exercise – Progressive muscle relaxation  

To start, find a quiet spot where you won’t be interrupted. You can do this either sitting in a chair or lying on the bed, whichever you prefer. One by one, you will begin tensing and relaxing specific groups of muscles – tensing each group for 10 seconds, then relaxing for 10 or 15 seconds. Concentrate on how your muscles feel, specifically the contrast between tension and relaxation. The idea is that in time, you will be able to recognise tension in any specific muscle and be able to reduce that tension. Remember to keep taking deep breaths and stay nice and calm throughout the whole ‘tense-relax’ sequence.


If you have an injury or chronic pain, please check in your GP before trying this exercise.

The following relaxation exercise takes roughly 10 minutes and is great to run through in a single session.

Before you begin:

  • Try not to tense muscles other than the specific group at each step
  • Try not to hold your breath, grit your teeth, or squint
  • If you have pain or discomfort in an area, skip it, or do just a little bit, as much as your body allows.


Once sitting or lying down comfortably, tense and relax each of these areas one by one for 10-seconds each…

  • Close your hands into a fist
  • Extend your fingers outward
  • Bend your wrists down towards your forearms
  • Flex your biceps
  • Pull your shoulders up towards your ears
  • Turn your head slowly to the right, then slowly to the left
  • Open your mouth as far as possible
  • Purse your lips as tight as possible
  • Frown your eyebrows, then raise them as high as they go
  • Breathe in deep to fill your lungs
  • Arch your back
  • Pull in your stomach, then push it all the way out
  • Tense your buttocks
  • Extend your legs and raise them just off the floor
  • Point your toes and flex them backward


Finally, just take a moment to breathe in and out and notice how your body feels. Compared to the start, you should now feel more relaxed with your muscles having exhausted some of the tension that was being held in them.

A great thing about learning this relaxation technique, is that it’s free for you to use, and do anywhere! Once mastered, being able to relax is a useful stress management tool to have in your toolbelt.


Guided relaxation exercise: Progressive muscle relaxation

Instead of following the steps on their own, some people will prefer to listen to a guided audio track. This may help take some of the thinking out of the exercise and provide cues to help you breathe, observe and relax more easily.

There are many guided progressive muscle relaxation tracks available which you can search for online. Below is one we have produced which walks your through the steps over about 3 minutes. It is a good option for those looking to try this relaxation exercise during a short break or to quickly feel the effects.

Find a comfortable space to relax and simply press play to listen.


Progressive muscle relaxation is a great tool to practise to help reduce tension in the body and increase relaxation. Give it a go next time you are feeling stressed to see how it can help you.

If you are interested in mindfulness and want to try some breathing exercises to reduce stress and anxiety, take a look at our mindfulness resource.


If you are struggling, speak to one our SuicideLine Victoria counsellors on 1300 651 251 or you can click on the floating chat button on the right to start a web chat.

If it is an emergency, call 000.





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