Mindful Moments – Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Posted 8 months ago

Mindful Moments – Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Feeling stressed? Having trouble sleeping? Experiencing ongoing or chronic pain?

It is common to feel stress or anxiety when you have cancer, whether you have just been diagnosed, are going through treatment, or living through survivorship.

Anxiety can make you feel tense, nervous, or unable to relax. Anxiety and stress can cause you to have a sense of dread, or fearing the worst is about to happen. Stress and anxiety can also cause you to feel like the world is speeding up or slowing down. There are many things that can bring on these feelings, such as trips to your healthcare provider’s office, treatments for your cancer, waiting for test results, or fears about your cancer.

If this sounds like you, it might be time to try a mindfulness practice that research shows helps reduces stress and anxiety, as well as improving sleep, reducing pain, lowering blood pressure, and eliminating headaches.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a deep relaxation technique found to give you all these benefits.  In short, PMR is the process of tightening or tensing up one muscle group at a time.  After the tension is created, it is followed by relaxation.

Dr. Edmund Jacobson is known as the creator of PMR and began his work developing this technique in the 1920’s.  Dr. Jacobson first published research on PMR in 1938 after his study participants found very positive results for the reduction of anxiety using this form of relaxation.

Sleep study participants report the best time for them to complete PMR is just before bed.  They describe PMR as a successful tool to release anxiety and calm their minds so they can fall asleep more peacefully.

As you move through the muscle groups using PMR, it is recommended to begin at one part of your body and move systematically. Some people start with the feet, others at the face. You may do one side of the body (hand, arm, leg, foot) at a time, or do both sides at the same time.  Think top to bottom, or bottom to top as well for the progression.

Here is the list of muscle groups and points where you create tension.

– Fists –Clench both fists and hold
– Biceps –Bend elbows, tense bicep muscles
– Triceps –Straighten arms, tense muscles in back of arms
– Forehead –Wrinkle forehead in a frown and hold
– Eyes– Close eyes tightly and hold
– Jaw – Gently clench jaw
– Tongue– Press against roof of mouth and hold
– Lips– Press together and hold
– Neck– Gently press neck back and hold. Then bring head forward to chest and hold
– Shoulders– Shrug shoulders as high as you can and hold stomach out as much as possible and hold
– Lower back– Gently arch up
– Buttocks –Tighten muscles in buttocks and hold
– Thighs– Tense by lifting legs off floor and hold
– Calves– Press toes downward, as if burying them in sand

When you are ready to start your first session…

1. Find a comfortable place to sit or lay down with no distractions.
2. Turn off your cell phones and electronics
3. Choose comfortable and loose clothing that allows you to move and stretch
4. Start off small, maybe a five-minute session. Work your way up to 10-20 minutes a day
5. Do not strain or over tense your muscles. Gently tighten them as you move through the 14 muscle categories
6. Synchronize your breath movements with your muscle tensions – as you tense, breathe in, and then as you relax, breathe out

Here is one video that we can recommend. It is a great video session for beginners. The video is titled for children and teens but it works well because it has simple instructions and lasts for five minutes.  Meditation, PMR and other mindfulness practices are skills we have to learn.  They take practice and do not always yield strong results from the first try.  That’s okay. Be patient with yourselves and keep trying. https://youtu.be/aF4H0oAiDSQ?si=G6kWdsAnzb1z1Z1p

If you are interested in mindfulness practices or things you can do on your own to reduce stress and anxiety, contact one of our Social Workers at Ironwood by sending an email to socialwork@ironwoodcrc.com or check out our calendar and participate in one of our wellness events.

Nicole McCallister, LMSW

Nicole McCallister is a Licensed Master Social Worker.  Nicole received her Master’s in Social Work from Arizona State University in August 2017.  She received her Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Studies in April 2003 from Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, MI.

Nicole has spent the last 15 years working with children and families in the child welfare system of Arizona.  She completed a social work internship with Ironwood under the supervision of Kelly Huey from August 2016 through May 2017.

Nicole has volunteered with Ironwood’s breast cancer support group in Scottsdale after her internship was complete.  Nicole is looking forward to working with cancer patients and their families in hopes of supporting the positive change to those in need.