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The PMR Method for Stress and Anxiety


August 14, 2019 | Published by

For many people, chronic stress and anxiety are part of their every daylives. And while healthy eating and stress management can certainly do wonders for both your psychological and physiological health, there are other options to be considered that can have a more immediate effect on your stress levels. (1) That’s where Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) comes in.

PMR is a relaxation practice aimed to lower stress levels and raise awareness of sensations of tension and deep relaxation in assorted muscle groups. The first step involves creating tension in specific muscle groups while noticing what this tension feels like in the body part. The second step is to release this muscle tension and notice what a relaxed muscle feels like as the tension diminishes. (2)

Benefits of PMR

PMR has been used to manage anxiety and stress, alleviate insomnia, and decrease symptoms of certain kinds of chronic pain. (3) PMR is based upon the straightforward practice of tightening one muscle group at a time, followed by a relaxation stage with release of the tension.

Doctors have used PMR in combination with standard treatments for symptom relief in a number of conditions, including pain from chronic illness, high blood pressure, digestive disturbances, and headaches. (3)

In a 2000 Journal of Behavioral Medicine study, researchers exposed 67 volunteers to a stressful circumstance and then had them practice PMR, experience music therapy, or take part in a control group.

The volunteers that underwent PMR not only had a greater sense of relaxation, they also experienced a lowered heart rate. (4) Additional studies propose that it’s possible that PMR relieves stress by lowering cortisol levels.

PMR has also been shown to benefit individuals suffering from health issues, such as high blood pressure and even cancer. A 2003 study from Psycho-Oncology found that PMR helped alleviate anxiety and improved the quality of life among 29 colorectal cancer patients who recently went through surgery.  (4)

Additionally, a 2006 Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine study presented the fact that PMR helped improve quality of life and lowered blood pressure among people suffering from heart disease. (4)

Practicing PMR

PMR can be practiced sitting down or standing up, just be sure to set aside the appropriate space needed. Even creating a small amount of tension can be enough to bring greater attention to the tension you may feel, and the resulting relaxation that follows once the muscles are relaxed.

If performing PMR causes any discomfort, either ease up on the tension or skip that muscle. (2) The last thing you want to do is aggravate any pre-existing injury or cause pain.

You’ll need about 10-15 minutes to practice PMR. Going through the list provided below, focus your attention on your muscles, one group at a time. Tense the set of muscles, taking notice how the muscle group feels while tension is applied. (2)

Keep the muscle group tense for about 5 seconds while inhaling. Afterward, release the contracted muscles while paying attention to the feeling of your muscles being relaxed. Stay relaxed for 10 seconds before repeating the exercise with the same group of muscles.

You want to practice this routine 2-3 times per muscles group, with decreased intensity each time before moving on to the next muscle group on the list. Try saying a word such as “relax” as you release a muscle group. This can help enhance the sensation of relaxation in the mind and body.



  1. Tobe, H. Meditation Blog: Intro to Progressive Muscle Relaxation. Therapist Development Center.
  2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation Clinical Tool. Integrative Medicine Program, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  1. Progressive Muscle Relaxation for Stress and Insomnia. WebMD.
  2. Wong, C. The Benefits of Progressive Muscle Relaxation. Verywell Mind.



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