Reality Check: Relaxation and Everyday Anxiety

Last time, I mentioned that Dr. Martin Seligman has a couple of suggestions to lower everyday anxiety levels. One is progressive relaxation, also known as progressive muscle relaxation.

This technique is hardly new; apparently first described nearly a hundred years ago. It’s based on a premise that mental calmness is a result of physical relaxation. That’s consistent with Dr. Glasser’s idea of total behaviour—what we do can change how we think, feel, and ultimately, our physiological responses.

If you’ve ever had trouble falling asleep, you may have already tried progressive relaxation. But in case you hadn’t heard of it, here’s a brief summary of information from Anxiety BC.

Essentially, the method is to tense a specific area of your body; then release the tension. Do this systematically all over your body. It takes 15 to 20 minutes.

As with anything, take care not to hurt yourself. If you have medical issues, you know to ask your doctor before you take advice from a blog, right?

You don’t need to wait until you are anxious or stressed to start practicing! Practice when you’re calm. When you are feeling anxious and need it, then you’ll know how to do it.

However, if you feel anxious all the time, now is as good a time to start as any, isn’t it? Here’s how:

Arrange to not be disturbed for 15 or 20 minutes. (If you are unable to do this, then maybe you’ve identified one source of your everyday anxiety! If so, it might be helpful to explore changes to your outside life, rather than just your internal, emotional life.)

Sit in a comfortable chair (not a bed, lest you fall asleep.) Take off your shoes; take a few deep breaths.

Because a systematic approach is helpful, pick a spot, such as your left foot. Take a slow deep breath and tense the muscles for about 5 seconds. Curling your toes downward is suggested as a way to tense your feet. Really feel it.

Then exhale as you quickly relax the muscles. Remain relaxed for about 15 seconds.

Go to the next area, like your left lower leg. Tense and release.

Carry on, working your way systematically through your body, tensing and releasing, inhaling and exhaling.

Seligman says that progressive relaxation quite reliably lowers the level of everyday anxiety. It’s not a one-shot deal; that is, doing this once isn’t going to send your anxiety away forever. But it’s a skill you can develop and it’s cumulative. We become more effective with practice.

Unlike a drug, this isn’t a quick fix. But it does offer the bonus that it’s not likely to do you any harm.

Another benefit is that this is very much under your control. You decide whether and when to practice it, for how long and with what intensity. Just knowing that there is something you can do about your everyday anxiety is helpful in and of itself. You have at least some control over your state.

Remember that for any technique to be helpful, we have to actually do it. You and I both know that it is much easier to intend to do something instead of going ahead and doing it. But there’s a world of difference between thinking it and doing it. Only the doing counts.

If you want more information, there are excellent resources available. Your local library is a great place to start. The Anxiety BC publication is also a great resource.

Have you ever tried progressive relaxation? Are there other techniques you use?

This entry was posted in Choosing Behaviour and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.