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▷ Download: progressive muscle relaxation script PDF

progressive muscle relaxation script PDF

Progressive Muscle Relaxation: 10 Scripts for Effective PMR

Three… two… one…

I relax my shoulders quickly and completely.

When the tension is released, I feel a warm glow in my muscles, almost a tingle.

This is my second week of progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), a technique established over many years and validated by research for managing stress, anxiety, and other health problems (Mackereth & Tomlinson, 2010).

progressive muscle relaxation script PDF

The therapy, involving a cycle of tensing and releasing specific muscle groups one by one, can be mentally and physically tiring, at least initially.

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However, with practice, it becomes easier. I’d even say I’m beginning to enjoy it.

Once the session is over, I feel completely relaxed, my mind and body at peace and increasingly connected.

But how?

Anxiety and other similar conditions can leave us feeling so tense that we become unable to recognize what it feels like to be relaxed. PMR helps us to cue this released state when we start to become wound up.

Within this article, we will discuss the origins of PMR, how to use it, and its benefits. Several mediums are offered in which to try the technique out, including written, audio, video, and digital tools.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Mindfulness Exercises for free. These science-based, comprehensive exercises will help you cultivate a sense of inner peace throughout your daily life and also give you tools to enhance the mindfulness of your clients, students, or employees.

What Is Progressive Muscle Relaxation?

Stress and anxiety cause muscular tension. PMR relieves this tightness by tensing and releasing one muscle group at a time.

The technique builds on the theory that when you are physically relaxed, you cannot feel anxious (Jacobson, 1977). Such deep relaxation has proven highly effective at relieving symptoms that arise from several conditions including anxiety, insomnia, stress, headaches, high blood pressure, and even cancer pain (Mackereth & Tomlinson, 2010; Kwekkeboom, Wanta, & Bumpus, 2008).

The practitioner, either in person or as a recording, guides you through a series of steps to work on one muscle group at a time in a specific order. As you breathe in, you tense the first muscle group and hold for five to ten seconds. Then while you exhale, you fully release that tension. After relaxing for 10 to 20 seconds, you repeat each step for the next muscle group.

And, surprisingly, it works really well.

When and Why Is It Used in Therapy?

PMR has successfully treated a wide range of health problems, including somatic states such as anxiety and stress, in diverse groups of people, with limited, if any, side effects (Mackereth & Tomlinson, 2010).

It is valuable as a standalone treatment or in conjunction with mindfulness, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, hypnotherapy, or other positive psychology interventions.

And, though few therapies endure, PMR has been around for many years and often forms part of clinical psychology training.

So, why is PMR ahead of its time?

The lasting appeal of this successful relaxation technique is its recognition of the fundamental connection between the body and mind. After all, the mind has a setting. It sits within a brain; it is housed (embodied) within a physical form and has ecological context, impacted by its environmental surroundings (Cappuccio, 2019).

And science has only recently rediscovered the notion of embodied cognition.

Brief History of PMR

Edmund Jacobson’s interest in anxiety began in a bicycle shop fire on the north side of Chicago in 1898. Aged 10, he was struck by how his father, who was deeply impacted by the incident, changed from being a quiet man to being, in Jacobson’s (1977) words, “excitable.”

This unlikely event led Jacobson on a journey that lasted a lifetime: to understand how to treat excitability and nervousness.

Seventeen years later, in 1905, while a Harvard University student, he discovered that deeply relaxed students were not startled by sudden noises.

In response to his ongoing research, Jacobson developed a complex and lengthy technique for practitioners to monitor and release unwanted tension in clients (Mackereth & Tomlinson, 2010).

Over the years, the technique has been adapted and, for practical reasons, shortened, but it remains true to the idea that physical relaxation has a positive effect on the mind (Wolpe, 1961).

Abbreviated progressive muscle relaxation training combines the tensing and releasing of muscles, while focusing on breathing to manage stress and anxiety.

4 Proven Benefits of PMR

PMR helps you distinguish between the subjective experience of a tensed muscle versus a relaxed one.

Over time, you can learn what it feels like and cue this state to lower tension and stress levels when you start to feel anxious.

The technique offers relief for many health conditions including lack of sleep, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, digestive disturbances, and the side effects of cancer treatment.

Science has recognized the benefits of PMR in a range of fields.

1. Health

Interventions for parents of children receiving treatment for malignancy – a painful and upsetting condition where abnormal cells divide and invade nearby tissues – reduced anxiety and improved overall mood (Tsitsi, Charalambous, Papastavrou, & Raftopoulos, 2017).

Indeed, PMR is so successful in healthcare settings that along with other relaxation techniques, it is routinely offered by medical practitioners to their patients (Mackereth & Tomlinson, 2010).

2. Sport

Psychological factors such as anxiety impact the amount and the quality of sleep, a common issue among competitive athletes preparing for an event.

Medication to manage insufficient sleep is often unsuitable for elite athletes due to concerns regarding the World Anti-Doping Agency or the risk of adversely impacting performance.

PMR is recognized by the American Psychological Association as an empirically supported treatment for insomnia and offers a safe and viable alternative (McCloughan, Hanrahan, Anderson, & Halson, 2016).

3. Cancer treatment

The side effects of chemotherapy can have a significant and negative impact on cancer patients’ lives.

PMR offers some relief.

A Step-By-Step Guide

Though often guided by a therapist, there are several videos, audios, and apps that can take you through the steps required to perform PMR.

The steps involved are usually a variation on the following:


  • Set aside 15 minutes.
  • Find somewhere quiet and comfortable, where you will not be disturbed.
  • Remove your shoes and wear loose clothing.
  • When you start, perform PMR twice a day while you are feeling calm.
  • Going forward, follow the steps once a day, three to four times a week, or as needed.
  • Consult your doctor before performing PMR if you have any underlying medical conditions that hinder physical activity.
  • Do not perform PMR if you have broken bones or pulled muscles.

Get ready

Before you begin, take five slow, deep breaths.

Step one: Tension

  • As you breathe in, deliberately and gently tense the first muscle group as hard as you can.
    • Feel the tension in your muscles.
    • It may cause some discomfort or shaking but not pain.
    • Try to tense only the muscle group you are targeting.
  • Hold for five to ten seconds.

Step two: Relax the muscles

  • Then while you exhale, quickly and fully relax the tensed muscles.
  • Focus on the changing sensations. If it helps, picture feelings of stress leaving the body.
  • Notice the difference between tension and relaxation.

You will feel the muscles become loose and limp.

Step three: Rest

  • Take 10–20 seconds and relax.
  • Repeat steps one, two, and three, tensing and relaxing each of the muscle groups listed in the table below.

Step four: Return

  • When finished, count backward from five to one, and return focus to the present.
  • Enjoy the feelings of deep relaxation.

It will take time to learn to use PMR successfully. And, initially, it may feel uncomfortable and require considerable effort and focus.

As you become more practiced, you will become fully aware of the difference between tensed and relaxed muscles, and it will feel more enjoyable.

Ongoing, the skill will become an effective way of managing anxiety.

2 Useful Scripts

useful scripts for pmr

When ready to begin PMR with a new or existing client, a script can prove useful to ensure guidance is delivered smoothly and consistently.

Berkeley Law, one of the premier law schools in the U.S., encourages staff and students to focus on their mental wellbeing actively. And PMR is a technique they actively encourage. Take a look at the script they use; it offers unambiguous and comprehensive guidance for the practitioner.

The Oxford Health NHS Trust also recognizes the importance of managing anxiety. It provides useful and practical scripts for several relaxation techniques, including a full and abbreviated PMR.

2 Techniques of PMR

PMR requires that we take 20 minutes from our busy daily schedules.

When practiced over several weeks, we reap the positive benefits: reduced anxiety and relief from stress.

There can be occasions when finding adequate time to practice PMR may prove difficult.

At these times, it is worth making use of one of the abbreviated versions.

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