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Five simple strategies to improve sleep, reduce stress, and more

Everyone wants to unwind. However, unwinding is frequently the last task on your to-do list; it’s the reward after a long day at work, after the laundry is folded, after the dishes are done, etc. Or perhaps you believe that relaxing is something you only do while you’re on vacation.

However, according to sports medicine doctor Matthew Kampert, DO, a daily relaxation routine may warrant a higher place on your to-do list. He advises progressive muscle relaxation in particular (PMR).

According to Dr. Kampert, progressive relaxation is similar to a body scan that has both a mental and a physiological component. You may recognize and let go of the stress you retain in every part of your body by employing breathing and imagination.

Not quite as comfortable as lying on your couch and binge-watching Netflix, PMR. However, you can use it at any time and anywhere to reap instant and long-term physical and mental advantages.

Dr. Kampert goes into further detail on the advantages of practicing progressive muscle relaxation.

What is progressive muscle relaxation?

Muscles are alternately tensed (squeezed) and relaxed (released) during PMR. You start at one end of your body, let’s say your toes, and work your way up, making it “progressive.” If you’d rather, you may also begin at the top and work your way down.

You concentrate on one small, precise area at a time, such as your toes, abdominal muscles, or the top of your head.

This method is occasionally referred to as the Jacobson relaxation technique because it was developed by Dr. Edmund Jacobson in the 1920s. According to the underlying premise, physical relaxation promotes mental calm.

However, this method of physically relaxing your muscles does more than just make you feel good. It aids in the transition of your body’s sympathetic nervous system, commonly known as “fight-or-flight,” to the parasympathetic nervous system, often known as “rest and digest” mode.

Your sympathetic nervous system can be activated and set into high gear by even little stresses, such as losing your keys when you’re running late. Simply put, PMR enables your body to depress the accelerator and shift into neutral.

According to Dr. Kampert, the sympathetic nervous system makes your heart beat faster and your muscles tense. You strive to reduce that sympathetic output with increasing muscle relaxation so that your parasympathetic system may take over. Your heart rate and blood pressure will vary when that switch is made.

How to do progressive muscle relaxation

The beauty of PMR is that it can be done almost anywhere and is self-guided. Even though PMR is most effective when performed while lying down, you can still benefit from it when working at your desk, stuck in traffic, or backstage before a major performance.

Start by closing your eyes. By doing so, you can block out unwanted sensations and improve the communication between your muscles and mind. In order to calm down your sympathetic nervous system, take a few deep belly breaths. Then, starting with your toes, carry out the following actions for each muscle group:

1. Breath in deeply and firmly contract (squeeze) each muscle group. Take a five-second hold.

2. Pay attention to how the stress makes you feel and picture the tense muscle.

3. After you exhale, let that muscle relax for five to ten seconds.

4. Visualize your muscle in a relaxed state and feel it.

5. Follow up with the following muscle group.

As you move up your body, be sure to cover these areas:

  • Lower body, including the buttocks, thighs, calves, toes, and feet.
  • Upper body, including the hands, arms, shoulders, fingers, and abdomen.
  • Head, including neck, jaw and forehead.

According to Dr. Kampert, the procedure typically takes 10 to 20 minutes for entire-body relaxation; if you’re new to PMR, it might take longer. Extremely tense areas can benefit from another round.

Need a quick remedy for one troublesome spot only? The same procedures can be followed to focus on a single problematic muscle group. Relaxing with your attention on that place will assist. Although it won’t offer the same overall health advantages as progressive relaxation, it will be useful if you’re pressed for time.

Progressive muscular relaxation advantages.

PMR can produce quick outcomes as well as long-term health advantages. Dr. Kampert lists these four important health advantages:

1. Aids in managing the anxiety response.

It might be distressing to have anxiety symptoms like breathlessness and muscle strain. However, evidence indicates that PMR, particularly when used in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy, can help you manage how your body reacts to worry. And according to one study, PMR is just as effective as acupuncture at lowering anxiety.

According to Dr. Kampert, “the key is detecting triggers and realizing when anxiety is starting.” “With practice, you’ll be able to control anxiousness before it becomes a problem.”

2. Helps in relaxation and better sleep.

If you’ve ever worked out immediately before bed, you probably discovered that it was more difficult to fall asleep. Your sympathetic nervous system may occasionally become active late in the day as a result of exercise, stress, or excessive stimulation (like screen time). For practically any busy individual, PMR before bed could be useful.

Dr. Kampert continues, “You want your heart rate and blood pressure down when you go to bed.” “You create the conditions for sleep by slowing everything down.” After finishing PMR, keep your attention on your breathing until you nod off to sleep.

3. Reduces tension headaches and stress.

Daily stress can lead to tension in the body and mind, which can lead to headaches. However, PMR counteracts many of the stress reactions that result in headaches. The American Migraine Foundation states that PMR is a recognized method for managing and avoiding migraines. Together, the two tools—biofeedback and their use—can lower headache frequency and intensity by as much as 60%.

For those who experience chronic stress, using PMR frequently may also have long-term cardiovascular health advantages. Your heart rate increases and your blood vessels tighten as a result of your body releasing the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol (tighten). Your blood pressure may go up as a result. Research indicates that PMR can lower your systolic blood pressure even if you already have high blood pressure (the top blood pressure number).

4. Improves athletic ability.

Before a big competition, athletes frequently utilize PMR to control stress and anxiety and provide their best effort.

Athletes frequently believe that getting pumped up before an event improves their physical prowess or performance. However, according to Dr. Kampert, that is truly ineffective. Before the event, when your adrenaline is pounding, it makes you breathe more deeply, engage all of your muscles, and causes you to expend a lot of energy.

However, he explains, “you more effectively distribute blood and activate the right muscles when you can breathe calmly and relax. Before you perform, maintain a calm state of mind and body to save energy for the muscles you’ll be using.

Learning how to use progressive muscle relaxation.

It takes work to become proficient at using progressive muscle relaxation to manage stress or anxiety. By using it frequently, you’ll become more conscious of the tension you hold and how it feels to actively release it.

Do your PMR in a calm environment to start, advises Dr. Kampert. “Then practice using it to calm yourself down in a scenario or location where you tend to feel worried.”

You may see how PMR is affecting your body as you do it by using technology, such as a smartwatch or heart rate monitor. You’ll be more inclined to practice deep breathing and visualization during stressful situations if you understand how they affect your heart rate and blood pressure specifically.

Is safe to use progressive muscle relaxation?

In general, PMR carries no dangers. But Dr. Kampert does advise that you keep in mind to stand up gradually after engaging in PMR to prevent any blood pressure drops brought on by doing so. For those who are taking blood pressure medication, this is extremely crucial.

He continues, “In some cases, PMR can be just as successful as prescription medication when it comes to decreasing blood pressure. “If a person is on one or more blood pressure medications, the medications may prevent the body from raising blood pressure. If PMR further decreases your blood pressure, the combination may be problematic.

Before beginning a novel practice like PMR, it’s a good idea to discuss your health history with your doctor if you have high blood pressure or other issues.

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