Progressive Muscle Relaxation: How Does it Help with Stress and Anxiety?

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) practice plays an important role in the current treatment of anxiety disorders (commonly in conjunction with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). PMR has been found to be effectively elevating multiple physiological symptoms that often accompany anxiety related conditions such as Generalised Anxiety, Panic disorder, Social Anxiety and others. People diagnosed in the above group often report experiencing elevated muscle tension and symptoms often include: headaches, chest pain or tightness, neck pain, muscle pain, problems swallowing, trembling, jelly legs, choking feeling, voice tremor among others.

What Progressive Muscle Relaxation is?

The origins of PMR lie with Edmund Jacobson in the 1930s. This simple technique includes first tightening one muscle group at a time followed by releasing of that tension to experience a deep relaxation. The basic therapeutic claim of PMR is that tense, stressed, and anxious people can find relief from their distress and its physiological accompaniments by learning to reduce muscle tension. (Schroder, 2013) Based on the knowledge that anxiety affects the body in two main ways, it tenses muscles and speeds up the Autonomous Nervous System (ANS), a modern theoretical rationale for PMR is that it teaches individuals how to relax their muscles and that in turn slows down the ANS. Basically, it directly counters the effects of anxiety by targeting a reduction of generalized stress activation. PMR has been used either as complete treatment or as one component among other standard treatments for symptom relief in a number of conditions, including anxiety, panic, migraines, chronic pain, high blood pressure, insomnia and digestive problems.

"Mental calmness is a natural result of physical relaxation" Edmund Jacobson (1934)

Once an individual becomes familiar with the process of Progressive Muscle Relaxation they progress from deep to quick relaxation, where they have to learn to relax to the same degree but in half the time. Practice of PMR allows individuals to slot relaxation into their mind so they can switch it on whenever they become aware of anxiety or stress building up. It can be learned by nearly anyone and requires only 10 - 20 minutes per day to practice.

People who struggle with difficulties staying asleep or with chronic insomnia report positive outcomes claiming that practicing Progressive Muscle Relaxation at night helps them fall asleep. The PMR practice certainly is an excellent way to learn to read the signals of the body and to recognise any signs of stress and tension building up.


Conrad, A., Roth, W.T. (2007) Muscle relaxation therapy for anxiety disorders: It works but how? Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 21: 243-264

Schroder, A., Heider, J., Zaby A., Gollner, R., (2013) Cognitive behavioural therapy versus progressive muscle relaxation training of multiple somatoform symptoms, Cognitive Therapies research 37: 296-306

WebMD Medical , Progressive Muscle Relaxation for Stress and Insomnia, Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on January 24, 2020

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