Why progressive muscle relaxation is useful

Progressive muscle relaxation is an important way to reduce stress and anxiety. When you feel stressed out or anxious, or if you have an anxiety disorder, you often develop really tight muscles. The good news is by learning how to relax your muscles properly you can reduce the stress.

How to do progressive muscle relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing and relaxing different groups of muscles throughout your body. It works best if you practise it regularly for at least eight weeks, as it takes time for your body to get used to it. Set yourself up for success. A realistic goal might be three times a week for eight weeks.


Before you get started, be sure to:

  • Find a quiet space free of distractions. Switch off your phone and avoid being around other people if they’re likely to be a distraction.
  • Get comfortable. Wear loose-fitting clothes, take off your shoes, and if you’ve eaten recently, wait awhile for your food to digest.
  • Sit on a chair in a comfortable position. You can also lie down if you prefer, but you’re more likely to fall asleep.

Relaxation exercise

  • When you’re ready to start, focus on your breathing for a minute or two, just to get settled.
  • Start with your right foot (or left, it doesn’t matter). As you breathe in, tense all the muscles in your foot as hard as you can.
  • Hold your foot muscles tense and count to 10, breathing normally.
  • When you reach 10, as you exhale, release your foot muscles so that they’re completely relaxed.
  • Count to 20, continuing to breathe normally.

Now, repeat the process, using the same foot. When you’ve tensed and relaxed the same foot twice, move on to the next group of muscles in the order listed below.

Recommended order of muscle tensing

  1. Right foot
  2. Right lower leg and foot
  3. Entire right leg
  4. Left foot
  5. Left lower leg and foot
  6. Entire left leg
  7. Right hand
  8. Right forearm and hand
  9. Entire right arm
  10. Left hand
  11. Left forearm and hand
  12. Entire left arm
  13. Abdomen (tummy)
  14. Chest
  15. Neck and shoulders
  16. Face

Tense muscles for 10 seconds, relax for 20, repeat. The idea is to relax and tense all the muscles in your body, starting with your feet and working your way up.

Finishing a session

When you’ve finished tensing your face muscles for the second time:

  • Stay relaxed, with your eyes closed
  • Count slowly backwards from ten to one
  • Stand up slowly. If you get up too quickly you may feel dizzy or lightheaded