An Essential Tool: Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

by Jennifer L. Fee, Psy.D. Health Professional

What is PMR?

Progressive Muscle Relaxation is an amazing tool that can help you relax and experience feelings of warmth and well-being.
It can also teach you to recognize the difference between the sensations of tension and relaxation.

PMR is a simple process of tensing and releasing muscles in your body.

When done properly, PMR will reduce pulse rate, blood pressure, and decrease respiration and perspiration rates.
In other words, it lowers anxiety levelsAll of us need to work towards a lifestyle of greater relaxation. However, if you are suffering from anxiety, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, or insomnia, PMR can provide some much needed relief.

How to do PMR

When I teach my clients PMR, we generally focus on four major muscle groups:

1. Head, face, throat and shoulders
2. Biceps, forearms, hands
3. Chest, Stomach, Lower Back
4. Thighs, buttocks, calves, feet

You'll need 10-15 minutes where you will not be disturbed.
Find a place where you can be alone and turn off your phone!
You might want to play some soothing music, but you don't have to.
You will be quickly tensing each msucle group for about 4-6 seconds, quickly releasing and then relaxing for about 20-25 seconds. You might want to do some abdominal breathing in between muscle groups, and/or focus on a scene where you feel safe and relaxed.
You might recite a word such as "calm," or a self-soothing statement.

Sample of What to Do:

Clench your two fists as tight as you can, hold it, hold it, hold it, notice the tension in your wrist.
Quickly let it go.
Feel the looseness in your hands and wrists, notice how different it feels from when you had it tensed.
Repeat one more time.

I recommend to my clients that they practice PMR for a minimum of one time per day (twice a day is preferable) for 10-20 minutes for two weeks and take note of how it affects their anxiety level.

A Caution

If you have very low blood pressure, PMR might not be advisable as it lowers blood pressure.
Be sure to check with your doctor if you have low blood pressure before trying PMR!
Also, if you have any concerns about tensing certain muscles, consult with your doctor first!

I hope PMR helps you, please let me know how it works for you!


Dr. Jennifer Fee

Jennifer L. Fee, Psy.D.
Meet Our Writer
Jennifer L. Fee, Psy.D.

Jennifer Fee is Director of Vision Quest Psychological Services. She is a psychologist licensed to practice in the State of California. She wrote for HealthCentral as a health professional for Anxiety Disorders.