Progressive Muscle Relaxation

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.


Introduction to Mindfulness

Mindfulness by definition means: "the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something." Mindfulness as a therapeutic tool is the process of bringing your attention inward and focusing on what is happening in the present moment, without judgement. It is the act of paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, and body sensations while accepting yourself as you are now, in the present moment. It sounds simple, and it is. It is also challenging in that most of us are not accustomed to sitting still and intentionally remaining present. We get bored, or tired, or distracted and have to continuously re-orient to the present moment. But once you are able to develop a consistent and committed practice, you will begin to experience a range of physical, mental, and emotional benefits. As a matter of fact, hundreds of studies have documented these outcomes, including: 

  • improved mood,
  • increased attention
  • increased overall brain functioning
  • reduction in anxiety and response to stress
  • decreased illness
  • reduced symptoms of PTSD 
  • weight management through mindful/intuitive eating

Based on the overwhelming amount of research,  mindfulness is an effective tool that can be used to help manage anxiety, depression, ADHD, PTSD, and mood disorders, as well as numerous other emotional and physical complaints. Below, I have created a very basic and brief mindfulness exercise with a focus on breathing. Please find a quiet and comfortable spot in your environment, and give it a try. Daily practice will increase the likelihood of therapeutic benefit.   


EMDR, CBT, DBT...!? So many acronyms. What does it all mean?

Some folks come to therapy seeking support with the goal of simply wanting to talk and gain some clarity and support for the challenges they are facing. This is a perfectly reasonable goal for therapy and there is overwhelming evidence that having a positive and supportive relationship with your therapist is related to experiencing positive therapeutic outcomes.

Others come to therapy seeking specific, evidence based practices that provide a foundation and directionality during treatment. There are many evidence based treatment options available for individuals seeking therapy. Below, I have outlined some basic information applying to a few common treatment options. 


EMDR is a highly effective treatment that was originally designed to alleviate distress caused by traumatic events. After 20+ years of extensive research, it has also been shown to be an effective treatment for a variety of other challenges including anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, and what has been coined little "t" traumas or experiences that have shaped negative beliefs about self and led to ongoing challenges (i.e. being continually criticized by a family member resulting in a belief that you never really measure up).  Most commonly, EMDR uses therapist directed lateral eye movements during therapy sessions.  A variety of other stimuli including hand-tapping and audio stimulation are often used. These techniques use bi-lateral stimulation of the brain's right and left hemispheres to help reorganize and reprocess memories and beliefs to facilitate more adaptive processing. These new associations are thought to result in eliminating emotional distress, decreasing physical hyperarousal, developing new insights, and shifting negative beliefs and developing more positive or neutral beliefs about self and/or the world. For more information, please inquire with me directly or click here.


CBT focuses on exploring relationships among a person's thoughts, feelings and behaviors. CBT teaches the individual to recognize unhelpful patterns of thinking that often lead to self-destructive behaviors and beliefs about self.  By identifying the relationship between behavior patterns, thoughts, and emotions an individual can begin to challenge these automatic thoughts and make choices that are more in line with optimal health. CBT often utilizes charts, diagrams, and worksheets, and may require individuals to do "homework" outside of sessions.  CBT provides tools that can be helpful in overcoming anxiety, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders, depression, and more.


DBT, like CBT, is also highly directive and skills-based and utilizes similar strategies as CBT but with an additional emphasis on mindfulness and acceptance. Dialectical means "tension or opposition between two interacting forces or elements." In practice, this means to learn to fully accept what you are experiencing now, while also holding the desire to change. Skills learned in DBT fall into four categories: emotion regulation, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and mindfulness. DBT was originally implemented with highly suicidal individuals and individuals who participate in self-harming behaviors. It is a very successful treatment for individuals who experience a great deal of emotional pain and provides tools to managing these emotions. It also focuses strongly on building relationship skills for individuals who experience many conflicted relationships.