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How To Relax Tense Muscles From Anxiety

How To Relax Your Muscles Using Progressive Muscle Relaxation

The trick to learning how to relax – Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)

Sit or lie down.

1. Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, holding it for a few seconds before exhaling.

2. Take a slow, deep breath while squeezing the muscles in your hands and arms for 5 seconds imagine youre squeezing lemons to make lemonade.

3. Exhale and release all the tension from your hand and arm muscles.

4. Take a slow, deep breath while squeezing the muscles in your shoulders for 5 seconds trying to touch your ears with your shoulders.

5. Exhale and release all the tension from you shoulder muscles.

Repeat this two-step process of tensing and relaxing on other muscles groups like your face , stomach and legs until you feel loose and relaxed.

The Primary Cause Of Jaw Tension

Although there can be many causes, a primary reason for jaw tension often goes undiagnosed. Its the same cause for most chronic pain, as medical pioneer Dr. John Sarno discovered: repressed emotions, mostly rage.

This repressed rage begins developing in childhood and builds steam into adulthood.

Our bodies hold tension in the masseter muscles of the jaw as a way of mitigating some of this repressed rage.

Stress Pain And Tension

Life itself causes tension. Even those without any noticeable anxiety symptoms tend to experience muscle tension once in a while. Tension is natural, and occurs when a person has any sort of emotional or physical stress.

But those with anxiety tend to experience greater levels of muscle tension, and often find it harder to manage or decrease that tension. In addition, many people with anxiety worry about the pain associated with muscle tension and have trouble feeling anything other than the discomfort of their muscle tension.

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How Is Produced Stress

The bodily experience of emotion is almost instantaneous. It took us only a few seconds to experience a negative emotion at the body level. When we are stressed, we automatically tense the muscles of the jaw and those around the eyes and mouth, as well as the muscles of the neck and back. These muscles tense at the same time to prepare the body to react and then relax when the stressful situation has disappeared.

It is a reflex reaction to protect us and is not really harmful, except when stress becomes a chronic state. In that case, the muscles never relax but remain in a state of constant tension.

In fact, it has been proven that people subjected to a level of chronic stress over time suffer a shortening of the muscles of the neck and shoulders. It has also been appreciated that a large mental workload produces an increase in muscle tension in the cervical and shoulder areas, especially in the case of people working at the computer.

One theory explains that muscle tension decreases blood flow to the affected area, which reduces the supply of oxygen, favoring the accumulation of lactic acid and toxic metabolites. In addition, the shortening of muscle fibers can also activate pain receptors. In fact, it is known that nerve structures are activated when there is stress, so that it also lowers the pain threshold and makes us perceive it more intensely than it really is.

Neck And Shoulder Massage

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

You dont have to schedule an appointment with a massage therapist if you feel tension coming on.

Instead, you could use a foam roller or a rollerball to self-massage the tense areas of your shoulders and neck.

Hand massagers are another good way to relieve tension in your neck and shoulders when you dont have someone there to help you.

You could even try placing your hand in a C position and applying pressure for 20 seconds on sore spots. You can then release and move to another area, holding the pressure for at least 20 seconds.

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Other Proven Ways To Relax Muscle Tension

Progressive muscle relaxation isnt the only way to relax your muscles.

Mind-Body Exercise

Performing mind-body exercises like yoga, tai chi, and qi gong will reduce muscle tension.

So does acupuncture or a form of self-acupressure known as tapping .

Massage or Sauna

Getting a massage or sitting in a sauna are wonderful ways to loosen tight muscles.

Foam Roller

Since few of us have access to a sauna or round-the-clock massage therapist, the next best thing is rolling tight muscles on a foam roller.

Youll find six exercises to relax your muscles and reduce stress from foam roller expert Lauren Roxburgh on Well and Good.

Lastly, if you frequently have tight muscles, look into the following supplements:


Tight muscles and cramps can be a sign of magnesium deficiency.

This mineral is critical for feeling relaxed, but upwards of 75% of Americans have below-normal levels.

This is largely due to chronic stress , eating processed food, and eating foods grown in mineral-depleted soil.


Taurine is an amino acid supplement commonly taken by endurance athletes and bodybuilders to relieve muscle damage, cramps, and soreness.

Taurine stimulates the release and formation of GABA, the brain chemical responsible for feelings of calm and relaxation.


Kava is a traditional drink in the South Pacific.

Its also available as an herbal remedy that has potent relaxing properties.

This makes it good for anxiety, stress, and insomnia as well as for muscle tension and spasms.

Other Medical Uses For Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation has been studied as an alternative therapy for cancer patients.

Studies on breast cancer patients show that progressive muscle relaxation can help reduce nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy as well as the anxiety, depression, and insomnia that often accompany this disease.

Some cancer hospitals and clinics offer programs in relaxation techniques, including progressive muscle relaxation.

It can also help people with epilepsy experience fewer seizures.

Since stress slows down the digestive system, PMR is beneficial for numerous digestive orders including ulcers, colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome.

When using PMR to treat any serious health condition, consider working with a health care professional who is trained in its use.

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Relaxing Is A Skill Heres How To Do It

  • Read in app

Sometime in 2021, I learned how to do something that I suspect will greatly improve how I deal with what already looks to be a harrowing 2022. This thing I learned sounds trivial, a practice so simple youd think thered be no need for special instruction which is probably why a lot of us go through life not knowing that there is a particular technique to getting it right.

What is this dark art? I learned the proper way to relax.

I dont mean that I discovered the benefits of taking it easy or of remaining calm in the face of adversity and letting lifes troubles slide off my back. I mean it more literally: I learned how to relax my muscles, to purposefully, systematically isolate each part of my body and loosen the meat on my bones.

And I learned that doing so regularly, once or several times a day, can be more or less instantly life changing. For me, deliberate muscle relaxation immediately reduces fatigue, stress and anxiety. It creates a kind of allover refreshed feeling that can be attained nearly anywhere and at any time. And it gets more effective the more I do it.

I have come to think of relaxation as a skill the more I relax, the better I learn which parts of my body tend to become tense, what that tension feels like and how to unlock that tension with a quick flick of the mind.

How To Release Jaw Tension

How to reduce stress with progressive muscle relaxation

Sarnos prescription for undoing this repressed rage has two parts.

First, you repeatedly remind yourself that repressed emotions is the source of your jaw tension .

That is, the source of our tension and pain isnt physical but psychological.

And somehow, acknowledging and accepting this fact reduces the repressed rage, thereby decreasing the unconscious tension.

Second, you familiarize yourself with all the potential sources of this rage.

  • Childhood events,

The list isnt short.

See Sarnos The Divided Mind for a complete treatment protocol.

And to become more present with the source of your psychological tension, see The Mastery Method.

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How To Practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation For Anxiety

Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Anxiety is a frustrating problem to have. When you become anxious, panicked or tense, your brain may be trying to tell you to relax, calm down and chill, and yet thats exactly what it seems like youre incapable of doing.

Feeling like you have no control, ironically enough, is how anxiety makes itself worse when youre really spiraling.

There are ways to prevent this therapy and medications can help you reduce the number of panic attacks and anxious moments you experience throughout the day. But you cant exactly pop a pill or kick in your therapists door when in the midst of a panic attack.

It turns out that there is an option for in-the-moment anxiety attacks: relaxation exercises like progressive muscle relaxation.

Exercises designed to help you beat back those panicked thoughts and symptoms can benefit you in the worst of moments, and like Daniel LaRusso in the Karate Kid, a moment to collect yourself and muster some inner peace may help you take home a W for the day.

Unlike The Karate Kid, however, relaxation techniques arent fiction. Breathing and muscle relaxation is real and it works.

How To Ease Muscular Tension

Try massage therapy Massage therapy is one of the best-known alternative remedies for relieving muscle tension.

  • Practice yoga Yoga is perhaps the oldest form of alternative muscle tension management. Some people claim the practice of yoga to be over 5,000 years old.
  • Take a hot bath or soak in a whirlpool tub
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    Take A Mineral Supplement Rich In Magnesium

    This essential mineral aids in relaxation, nerve signaling, and muscle contraction. Eat spinach, almonds, and other nuts, squash, and fish to ensure youre getting enough magnesium.

    A tensed muscle becomes a stiff muscle, so a proper stretch is essential after a workout. Even if youve done nothing but sit all day, a stretch will feel amazing!

    Get the kinks out by stretching every day.

    How Progressive Muscle Relaxation Helps Anxiety

    Beat Stress this DeStress Monday with Progressive Muscle ...

    Although clinical data is limited, progressive muscle relaxation seems to be effective. One study focused on one of the most chronically stressed groups of people: undergrads.

    The study included 60 healthy undergraduates and looked at the effects of progressive muscle relaxation and several other techniques on their stress levels. Researchers found that these techniques were statistically significant with respect to their benefits on relaxation and stress management.

    Progressive muscle relaxation showed immediate benefits compared with control groups, particularly in regards to the physical symptoms.

    While the study acknowledges that more research is needed, they were generally optimistic, in that these results represented real-world benefits that could be applied to groups that tend to be more stressed groups like the unemployed, minorities, people with disparate access to medical support and, yes, students.

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    How Do You Relax Tense Muscles With Anxiety

    3. Relax your muscles

  • Sit in a quiet and comfortable place.
  • Use your hand to make a tight fist.
  • Hold your squeezed fist for a few seconds.
  • Slowly open your fingers and be aware of how you feel.
  • Continue tensing and then releasing various muscle groups in your body, from your hands, legs, shoulders, or feet.
  • Tight Throat Feeling Anxiety Symptom Description:

    This feeling is often described as:

    • Feeling like your throat muscles are tight.
    • Feeling like you have a tight band around your throat.
    • Feeling like you have a lump or tightness in your throat.
    • Constant lump in the throat feeling.
    • A tight throat feeling that comes and goes.
    • Anxiety throat tension and tenderness.
    • Throat pressure.
    • Globus anxiety.
    • Feel there is something blocking the throat or airway.

    You feel you have a tightness or tension in the throat area even though there isnt a real reason for it. Sometimes this tension and pressure causes you to feel you have to swallow frequently in an attempt to clear or loosen your throat.

    This tight throat feeling can occur rarely, frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you may feel a tight throat once in a while and not that often, feel it off and on fairly regularly, or have a tight throat all the time.

    This feeling may precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety sensations and symptoms, or occur by itself.

    This tight throat feeling can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, and elevated stress, or occur out of the blue and for no apparent reason.

    This tight throat feeling can range in intensity from barely noticeable, to moderate, to severe. It can also come in waves, where its strong one moment and barely noticeable the next.

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    How Does Stress And Anxiety Cause Tension In Your Neck And Shoulders

    When you experience a stressful event or a bout of anxiety, your muscles contract, sometimes forcefully. This is an automatic or reflex reaction. Its known as a stress response or fight or flight response.

    Its your bodys way of gearing up to face a perceived physical threat that youll need to fight off or run away from. Along with muscle tension, you may also notice other physical symptoms when youre stressed or anxious, such as:

    • a fast heart rate
    • cold skin
    • sweating

    Although your bodys stress response is designed to help you deal with physical threats, your body responds in the same way when the threat isnt physical. Your muscles may tighten up when youre stuck in traffic, dealing with pressure at work, or watching the news.

    According to the American Psychological Association , your muscles and other organs may only relax again once the perceived threat has passed.

    If stress is ongoing meaning the stressful situation doesnt seem to have a clear end your body may stay in a heightened state of readiness to face a threat. As a result, your muscles may stay tense and tight for much longer than they need to.

    According to the APA, ongoing muscle tension in your neck and shoulders can lead to more serious issues like back and shoulder pain, body aches, and migraine and tension headaches.

    Physical Exercises To Release Jaw Tension

    Yin Yoga 35 Min – Release Stress and Tension – Relax & Stretch Muscles

    Resolving clenching jaw tension with psychology isnt a quick fix. This process often takes months to see results.

    Another challenge is that new repressed emotions are always arising.

    So its helpful to have methods to reduce this jaw tension in the here-and-now so we can benefit from less jaw tension and more energy.

    To this aim, here are two things you can do to reduce jaw tension right now:

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