The 10-Minute Relaxation Technique for Total-Body Calm

Woman doing progressive muscle relaxation on a yoga mat

Headaches, jaw pain, neck ache. If you regularly experience symptoms like these, stress may be getting the best of you. “When under stress people tend to hold their body very tight, which can start a cascade of all kinds of issues with pain and feeling unable to relax, and it really feeds into anxiety,” says Beth Salcedo, M.D., medical director of The Ross Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders in Washington D.C. and president elect of Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

According to the American Psychological Association, muscle tension is almost a reflex reaction to stress. But here’s the good news: That connection works in the opposite direction as well—research shows eliminating muscle tension can help combat stress.

There are a number of different ways to alleviate muscle tension, but one simple solution (that your Fitbit Charge 2 can help you with!) is progressive muscle relaxation, a nearly 100-year-old mind-body technique that involves slowly tensing and relaxing muscle groups.

“You deliberately tense your muscles to feel what that feels like, and then release that tension to feel what that feels like,” says Salcedo. In doing so, you begin to learn how you feel when you’re tense versus how you feel when you’re relaxed. “It’s impossible to be relaxed and tense at the same time, so if you can figure out how to relax the muscles of your body, that’s almost half the battle,” says Salcedo.

When to Use Progressive Muscle Relaxation

One session of progressive muscle relaxation can help you chill—”The very first time I did this, I completely relaxed,” says Salcedo. “I remember that I didn’t think I could get up out of the chair I was in, I felt almost like I was part of the furniture.”—but if you want to learn how to relax outside of a session (like before an important work presentation), you have to practice.

Depending on how stressed you are, Salcedo recommends doing progressive muscle relaxation two or three times a day for a week or two. Once you get the hang of it, you can reduce your practice to once a day or once every other day—whatever feels manageable for you.

“Starting out the day with it is a wonderful thing,” says Salcedo. “A lot of people are super anxious in the morning, because they’re anticipating a difficult day. If you could spend 10 to 15, or even 20 minutes doing progressive muscle relaxation before you get out of bed that would be great.”

“Another good time to do it, if possible, is right before you start your evening,” says Salcedo. “For parents who leave work and have to go home and cook dinner and deal with kids and homework and bedtime rituals, starting that evening process with progressive muscle relaxation would be great. And then if they could do a third time, before bed would be ideal.”

How to Do Progressive Muscle Relaxation

First things first, silence your cell phone, close any doors, and get into a comfortable position where you won’t be disturbed or have to move around a lot, like a chair, recliner, or even the floor if it won’t encourage you to fall asleep.

Next, take in a few deep breaths and then slowly release them. “It’s important that you’re breathing in a slow and steady controlled manner before you get started,” says Salcedo, as that also helps manage stress and anxiety. (If you need some help the Relax function on Fitbit Blaze and Fitbit Charge 2 will guide you through a two- or five-minute deep-breathing session that’s personalized to your current heart rate.)

Once you’re comfortable and your breathing is steady, you can begin the progressive muscle relaxation. Here’s how it works: Pick one muscle group (or body part) and tighten it as much as you can without straining. Sit with that sensation and pay attention to what it feels like for 10 to 15 seconds before releasing the tension. Rest for five to 10 seconds and then move on to the next muscle group.

“It’s probably smart to start with your head and move down just out of ease, but you can get the same effect no matter what order you go in,” says Salcedo. Many people find it helpful to follow an audio guide, like Salcedo’s Progressive Muscle Relaxation album, or written instructions that will tell you exactly which muscles to focus on and how to tense them. You can also set the interval timer on your Charge 2 so that it vibrates when it’s time to switch muscle groups.

Depending on which guide you use, your total session time may vary, but Salcedo recommends aiming for at least 10 minutes. “That would be a minimum,” says Salcedo. “Fifteen to 20 minutes is a great session if you can do it.

8 Comments   Join the Conversation

8 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I usually not doing a yoga but from now on wards, I really want to start Yoga for Self Belief, Power, to get rid of Anxieties.

  • My son presented me a new fit bit as gift , but it doesn’t work, pl guide me to your local station in Bangalore India
    Appreciate your help on this

  • I had Aortic Valve Replacement Heart surgery Jan.13, 2017 and One of my Night nurses would play relaxation music on her iphone for me and she would leave it on my night table to help calm me in the evenings. I will never forget her and this gift she gave to me in my care while i was there ICU.
    I am thankful for this article you did here on Fitbit, i am searching Itunes now to download some of the meditaition music..
    I am so happy that Fitbit finally made the Fitbit Alta HR!. slim band. I told my husband I want it for Our Anniversary in June so i will now be able to track my HR.
    sorry for rambling, all the Best always, RosenFlorida

  • I’ve been going to Tai Chi for several years which is a moving meditation focusing on concentration. Can’t be thinking of making supper or the set will go to pieces.

  • I struggle with neck tension, neck pain and more recently headaches. Have been to the doctor to make sure it wasn’t something more serious, but it was clear that it was from too much stress. I have been trying to find new relaxation techniques and stumbled upon this article. It has changed my life. My neck is more fluid instead of stiff and I’m more conscious of my muscle tension in day to day life. You just want to make sure you give yourself enough time to genuinely relax. Rushing through it to get quick relief defeats the purpose. There are lots of different audio instructions. Do a search and find one you really enjoy.

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