A Simple Technique to Ease Stress: Jacobson's Progressive Muscle Relaxation

A Simple Technique to Ease Stress: Jacobson's Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Last update: 23 August, 2017

From all the strategies used to reduce the physical impact of stress, Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation technique is one of the most effective. If we practice it regularly, it can be a great tool in progressively doing away with muscle tension.

Something interesting about this technique, which was created by Edmund Jacobson in 1920, is that once we learn how to do it, it instantly turns into a marvelous resource we can keep in our pocket, into a tool that we can use at any moment we need some calm in a stressful situation.

“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.”

-Chinese Proverb

Situations as common as an exam, a conference, or a job interview almost always cause our brains to send out alarm signals, which instantly cause muscle tension, stomach ache, trembling, dry mouth, and those intrusive thoughts that are capable of robbing us of strength and efficiency at the time we need to complete a task.

Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation allows us to focus all of our attention on a series of muscle exercises that, little by little, will relieve tension and, above all, those disruptive ideas that produce discomfort and helplessness.

In the following, we will explain how to apply it in your daily life. 

Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation and its relation to therapy

We have all suffered from occasional stress, or perhaps we are living through a phase of continuous and persistent anxiety. The good news is that you will be able to do away with that anxiety, the bad news is that you will have to constantly apply the technique. Before jumping in, let us give you three points to keep in mind.

  • People who suffer from intense stress are characterized by a hyperactive mind. 
  • Those thoughts cannot always be controlled, and as a consequence, neither can our conduct.
  • Little by little, almost without noticing, we get into a vicious cycle characterized by physical and mental exhaustion, an emotional block, moodiness, anxiety, and the inability to solve problems.

“There is no stress in the world, only people thinking stressful thoughts and then acting on them.”

-Wayne Dyer

Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation technique as a “pre-therapy” strategy

Let’s look at an example to understand the usefulness of Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation. Miguel is a neurologist, an excellent professional who suffers from anxiety attacks every time he goes to conventions, seminars, or conferences where he has to speak publicly.

The therapist he goes to for help has taught him to put into practice Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation to be able to face that paralyzing fear, and highly emotional situations where he finds himself completely blocked.

Once the person is able to reach a reasonable level of calmness, psychological therapy can begin for the patient, in order to teach them proper strategies for managing fear, personal safety, and speaking.

So, as we can deduce, the strategy created by Edmund Jacobson allows us to reach a state of mental calm by means of muscle relaxation. Once we manage to reach that internal equilibrium, then is the time to restructure our thoughts, to change our focus, and alleviate our fears. 

How to do Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation

In addition to being a fabulous strategy to channel anxiety and reduce stress, Jacobson’s  progressive muscle relaxation has many benefits for our health: it reduces blood pressure, promotes deeper, more refreshing sleep, and reduces seizures in people with epilepsy.

“Health and well-being is a duty, otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”


Now then, there is one aspect we should keep clear: this technique requires a few practices before being able to benefit from it. Its benefits will be reached faster each time and more effective the longer we practice it. The following will explain how to do it.

Sequence of relaxation

The first thing you will do is find a comfortable position, take off your shoes, and make sure your clothing is not restricting. Place your hands on your knees and begin this simple sequence of relaxation.

  • Hands. Make a hard fist until you feel the tension. Hold that position for 10 seconds, and little by little, release one finger at a time feeling them relax.
  • Shoulders. This is very simple, shrug your shoulders slowly upward, towards your ears, until you can feel the tension. Hold for 5 seconds and release, feeling them relax. Repeat 5 times.
  • Neck. Next, lower your chin towards your chest for a few seconds, then relax. 
  • Mouth. Now, open your mouth and extend your tongue as far as possible and hold for 10 seconds. Next, relax. Then, instead of sticking your tongue out, lift it to the roof of your mouth, feel the tension, then relax.
  • Breathing. We will continue our relaxation with a simple breathing exercise: inhale for 5 seconds, hold for 6 seconds, and exhale for 7 seconds. Very easy. 
  • Back. With your shoulders resting comfortable against the back of the chair, move your body forward just a little bit so that your back is arched; hold that position for 10 seconds and then relax.
  • Feet. We will complete our sequence by focusing on our feet. Stretch your toes out as if you are going to stand on your tip-toes. Note the tension and hold for 10 seconds, then release and feel the relaxation.

In conclusion, it is necessary to practice this simple sequence daily, by looking for a little bit of time where you can be calm and alone, as this will promote proper muscle relaxation that will connect to the mind to calm and relax it, and help us be conscious of the here and now, of our current needs. That way, progressive muscle relaxation can work and will become our best strategy for confronting any stressful situation.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.