When we talk about stress, anxiety, and/or depression, we often concentrate on the mental, emotional, and spiritual symptoms that arise and create discomfort. Less talked about, but equally as impactful, is the physical symptoms that are ignored, unnoticed, or misperceived as a separate issue. However, troublesome mental and emotional states and increased stress have a direct physiological impact on our bodies. Many of my clients come to sessions with physiological complaints including difficulty sleeping, aches and pains, muscle tension, stomachaches, and headaches. Therefore, a well-rounded treatment plan for addressing mental health complaints should include an additional focus on the body.
Progressive muscle relaxation is a process by which an individual will intentionally flex and release a series of muscles allowing his or her body to return closer to a baseline level of relaxation. As an example please try the following exercise. Sit or lay down in a comfortable position. Now focus your attention on your shoulders and notice if there is any tension. Often, we are surprised when we zoom in on our bodies, how tense they are. Now, intentionally tense your shoulder muscles so that your shoulders touch your ears. Squeeze and hold for 5 seconds.... now drop your shoulders and release them down to their normal position. Try this once more. Take notice of any physiological differences in tension/relaxation in your shoulders.
Many people who experience chronic anxiety and stress may not even notice that they are carrying around all of this tension. It has become the new normal. Practicing this exercise will help bring the body to an all around more relaxed state. Try it before bed if you are feeling restless, or midday while at work. Progressive muscle relaxation has been shown to be significantly effective for those suffering from clinical anxiety. Even if you are not experiencing debilitating anxiety, I highly recommend trying the link below to begin a process of training your body to relax.