“Use your own physiology to trick your anxiety into oblivion.”
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a tool used in the filed of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), designed to interrupt the physiological consequences on persistent anxiety. It is a sustainable approach with wide ranging effects on mood, anxiety, and perceived wellbeing. Today, we provide a context and walk-through (audio) of PMR, in an effort to expand your understanding of the potential use in day-to-day life.
Positive Psychology, CBT, and Anxiety Treatment
While we typically work hard to fix what is broken, the filed of Positive Psychology works to maximize on what is not. At its most basic level, Positive Psychology attempts to foster optimism, thus providing individuals an opportunity to take inventory of the functional parts of their lives. This in turn creates balance against perceived sources of pain.
However, if psychologists/clinicians of this viewpoint solely focused on optimism as a solution towards reducing suffering, there would be very little for Positive Psychology to hang its hat on. It is important to understand that Positive Psychology uses many tools popular in modern day psychotherapy. Techniques from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), are particularly popular amongst providers with a Positive Psychology treatment focus.
Therefore, it is critical to understand the following distinction: CBT and Positive Psychology avoids assessment and case conceptualizations rooted in pathogenic understanding. As it relates to mood and anxiety disorders in general, it is not important where the difficulty started. In the end, the successful client is able to face challenges with a number of clinically oriented tools at their disposal. Solving historical pain is not sufficient, nor necessary, in treating anxiety symptoms.
Defining Anxiety (Symptoms)
It is not required that you have comprehensive knowledge to diagnose clinical anxiety. If you feel persistently anxious, you have anxiety. However, an adequate understanding of related trends is helpful in knowing the breadth of the problem. For instance, it is helpful to know that anxiety and depression are strongly correlated in the peer-based literature, thus broadening discussions with your clinician.
For those preferring to know specific diagnostic criteria, the following will be helpful:
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Over the past six months, you have experienced more days with excessive anxiety and/or worry.
- You find it difficult to control your worry.
- Your anxiety and worry are associated with at least three of the following –
- Restlessness and on edge
- Feeling fatigued
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tention
- Sleep disturbance
- The above symptoms cause significant impairment in social, occupational (job), and other areas in your life.
- Symptoms are not secondary to the use of elicit substances and/or medications.
- The symptoms are not better explained by anther diagnosis (e.g., Social Anxiety Disorder, etc.)
Avoid Quick Solutions – Substance Misuse
Anxiety is often free floating through your day, with periodic spikes in physiological response to stimuli. Such a pattern is seen in patients suffering from panic disorder. In both cases, individuals learn a variety of solutions to decrease emotional pain, both adaptive and maladaptive in nature. Some discover the quick desirable effects of using illicit substances and/or alcohol. Unfortunately, this approach is short-sighted and lacks sustainability.
It is true that misusing substances decreases anxiety symptoms. Nevertheless, the regular use of such methods quickly becomes a trap, sought for its effective and immediate results. Initially individuals fail to see the ramifications of this choice. Over time, the negative consequences start to outweigh the benefits (physical health, finances, relationship problems, etc.).
Treatment – The Long Game
Understanding the treatment of anxiety problems as a long game, is an important first step. A well trained clinician will conceptualize the problem from a bio-psycho-social, and spiritual, perspective. An understanding of diet, thought patterns, social and spiritual supports, is used in developing a sustainable set of individualized tools designed to meet your unique circumstances. Making changes requires both commitment and time – There are no quick solutions with any degree of efficacy.
What Is Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)?
One such tool commonly used in the treatment of anxiety problems, is Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). Anxiety is typically expressed physically in the form of muscle tension. This process is self-reinforcing, in that, the more anxious you feel, the more tense you notice your muscles become, and thus in turn leading to increased anxiety.
PMR provides a physiological pathway for decreasing muscle tension associated with anxiety. Through a process of tightening and releasing major muscle groups throughout the body, in combination with deep breathing exercise, you will be able to break the anxiety cycle.
The basic process is this:
- While sitting in a relaxed position with your eyes closed, do an inventory of the muscle tension experienced throughout your body.
- Move your awareness from head to toe, focusing on one muscle group at a time:
- Face, jaw and neck.
- Arms, shoulders and chest.
- Stomach, hips, and upper legs.
- Lower legs and feet.
- For each muscle group, tighten and hold the group while taking a deep breath in.
- After three seconds, release the muscle group and let out your breath.
- Repeat as needed.
How to Incorporate PMR Into Your Day
PMR is a skill easily adapted to your day-to-day life. Initially, it is a good idea to sit in a quiet place away from distractions (phones, people, etc.) until you are familiar with the process. It might take you ten or more minutes to complete the exercise. Over time, the process becomes quicker. You will start to feel comfortable doing it on your way to work or between classes. People won’t even notice the funny face you make with you tighten your face!
PMR Walk through (Audio)
In order to provide you the most comprehensive set of resources for learning Progressive Muscle Relaxation, we have included an audio walk-through in today’s article. In the following clip, we go through the exercise in real time so that you can get a sense of what it is like to take inventory, tighten and hold muscles, and breathe.
You are free to listen to the following clip as many times as you like. If you want your own copy and are unable to download using a hover right-click, reach out to the Finding My Psych team through our contact page – We will provide it to you for free!