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Muscle relaxation techniques for stress relief

Getting your body to relax physically is a great way to feel calmer and less tense. Here’s how you can use muscle relaxation techniques for stress relief.

Stress relief through muscle relaxation

Muscle relaxation techniques are a great way to feel calmer and more physically relaxed. Meditation, yoga, a hot bath or shower and even vigorous exercise can all help you with stress relief by relaxing both your body and mind.

Basic muscle relaxation technique

The following technique involves progressive muscle relaxation. You tense and relax each part of your body, one by one. It’s an easy way to get started with muscle relaxation for stress relief.

Getting ready to relax
Choose a time of the day when you’re confident that you won’t be interrupted – for example, when your baby is having a nap or after your children have gone to bed in the evening. Allow about 20 minutes for this exercise.

Find a place in the house that’s quiet and away from everyone else.

Make sure you’re wearing comfortable clothes and that you’re warm enough. Take off your shoes if possible.

When you’re ready, sit or lie down with your eyes closed. If you sit, you might want to sit in a comfortable chair or on the floor against the wall.

Basic steps
Start by noticing where in your body you feel tense or tight. You can do this by mentally scanning your body from top to bottom to identify these areas. This will help you to become aware of how your body is feeling.

Next, start tensing individual parts of your body. As you tense each part, hold it for 5 seconds, then allow 10 seconds when you relax. Slowly breathe in when tensing muscles and slowly breathe out when relaxing them.

Arms

  • Start with your right hand – clench it into a fist and then relax.
  • Tense your right bicep and then relax it by dropping your arm to your side.
  • Do the same for your left hand and bicep.
  • Lift your shoulders up as high as they can comfortably go and then relax them.

Head

  • Lean your head back so that you’re looking at the ceiling. Relax by moving your head back to its normal position. Don’t tense your neck if you have any neck problems.
  • Open your mouth as wide as possible and relax.
  • Poke your tongue out as far as you can and relax.
  • Put your tongue on the roof of your mouth as hard as is comfortable for you and then relax.
  • Clench your teeth and notice how your cheeks and jaw are becoming tense and then relax.
  • Close your eyes as tightly as you can and then relax.
  • Raise your eyebrows as high as you can and relax.

Legs

  • Tense your bottom tightly and relax.
  • Tighten your right thigh muscle and relax.
  • Tighten your right calf muscle by pointing your foot down and relax.
  • Do the same with your left thigh and calf.
  • Tighten your toes if you’re lying down, or dig them into the carpet or floor if you’re sitting and then relax.

Whole body

  • Take a deep breath. When you feel that your lungs are full, take in a little more breath. Hold the breath for five seconds and then slowly breathe out.
  • When your whole body feels relaxed, continue to breathe gently in and out.
If you’ve got only a few minutes, try this relaxation exercise on just your arms, shoulders and face. You’ll be surprised at how well it works.

Making muscle relaxation work for you

While you’re doing this relaxation exercise, it might help to imagine yourself in a quiet, serene setting. You could picture yourself in your favourite place, like the garden, or imagine you’re in a forest, by a river or on the ocean. Keep imagining yourself in this place for a while.

As you’re doing the exercise, make sure to look after your body – don’t tense a body part if you’re worried that you might hurt yourself.

This muscle relaxation technique can be very useful if you haven’t been sleeping well. In this case, do it just before you go to bed. In fact, you might feel very tired after this exercise.

You can get more detailed exercises on DVDs and CDs and in books on stress relief and management. Look in your local library or bookshop or check online.

You can also download guided relaxation apps to your smartphone or tablet.

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Last updated or reviewed
23-03-2017

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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