MUSCULAR TENSION makes the body able to
move quickly. Many moons ago, that was pretty handy. Nowadays,
it isn't worth much. And the constant semicontraction of unused
muscles causes a lot of backaches and headaches and general discomfort,
as well as aggravating your anxiety.
Muscle tension is another one of those
body sensations that produces a negative feedback loop. Adrenaline
tends to tighten muscles. The sensation of tense muscles makes
you feel, well, tense. The feeling of tension increases
Of course, you can relax by getting a massage
or soaking in a hot tub. Both are great and work well, but you
can only do them once in awhile. We need something you can do
much more often.
Edmund Jacobson created a practice known
as Progressive Relaxation back in the 1920s. Jacobson reasoned
that since tension accompanies anxiety, you might be able to
reduce anxiety by learning to relax the tension. You could, in
other words, reduce psychological tension by reducing physical
tension. It was a revolutionary idea in its time. He thought
that muscular tension might even cause anxiety and that
contracted, tight muscles were actually at the root of many emotional
problems, not merely a byproduct of them.
By careful training, he helped people learn
to voluntarily relax specific muscles of their body at will,
and sure enough, it greatly reduced their anxiety symptoms
even for people who had a serious anxiety disorder. He found
the procedure effective with ulcers, insomnia, and hypertension
Progressive Relaxation is still greatly
respected and widely practiced by therapists today. References
to the practice are strewn throughout the literature on anxiety.
Why? Because it's simple and direct and it works. Jerilyn Ross
adds this important point:
Creating and controlling your own tension
allows you to become very aware of the differences in sensations
produced by a state of tension versus a state of relaxation.
With practice, you will become proficient at detecting tension
even at mild levels.
In Progressive Relaxation, first you learn
to relax your muscles lying down with your eyes closed, but the
aim is to do it throughout the day while you're working, walking,
talking, eating, etc. If you would like to use this method, you
don't need any training to begin. Right now, can you find one
muscle in your body that is tensing for no good purpose? Relax
that muscle. Simple as that. A small percentage of people are
unable to relax a muscle, in which case training is called for.
There are several good audiotapes that can train you in Progressive
Next time you get into your car, check
in on your muscles and relax the ones you aren't using. While
you're driving, relax your face. While you're at work, make it
a habit whenever you are in between tasks, to check your body
for unnecessary muscular tension and relax it.
As your muscle tension decreases, your
heart rate and your breathing slow down too. It calms you.
Check in on your body now and then. You
may be surprised to find that every time you check, you have
some muscles tensed that you aren't actually using. Take a deep
breath, relax a few muscles, and already you feel more peaceful.
This you can also do anytime, anywhere.
And it goes well with deep breathing take a deep breath,
notice where you have tense muscles, and as you breath out, let
those muscles relax. Pay particular attention to your face, upper
back and neck.
Of all the great methods I have learned
over the years, the one I use the most is this basic tool. It
takes almost no time, and very little effort. And it has a noticeable
effect. When in doubt, relax tense muscles.
Relax tense muscles.