Jacobson’s progressive relaxation: use, phases and effects

Over the past decade, the rise in the prescription of relaxation techniques in clinical and health psychology is attributed to the palpable evidence of an acceleration in the pace of human life that it has experienced. was incorporated as a regular form of daily operation.

These types of practices aim to act not only as a type of intervention to reduce personal stress, but also to become an effective alternative to prevent its occurrence. Jacobson’s progressive relaxation is one of the most widely used; below we will see its characteristics, its phases and how it is done.

Fundamentals of relaxation techniques

Relaxation is seen as an opposite response to tension or the response to stress.

In the stress response, there is an activation of the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). the SNA it is the part of the body that controls involuntary actions, Such as heart rate and respiratory rate, contraction and dilation of blood vessels, digestion, salivation, sweating, etc.

The Antónomo nervous system is divided into the sympathetic nervous system (which prepares the individual for action) and the parasympathetic nervous system (which performs functions opposite to the first, such as maintaining a body state at rest after exertion, decreasing the stress level of the body).

Relaxation produces activation of the parasympathetic branch of the SCN. Therefore, relaxation can be viewed as a state of hypoactivation.

    What is relaxation?

    The definition derived from the psychology of emotions proposes to conceptualize relaxation as physiological, subjective and behavioral state which is experienced when an intense emotion occurs but of the opposite sign (especially with regard to unpleasant emotions such as anger, stress or aggression). Therefore, relaxation counteracts the effects of physiological activation derived from this type of emotion, while becoming a very useful resource for reducing anxiety, fears or symptoms of depression.

    Other benefits of relaxation consist of: improvement of blood circulation, blood pressure and heart rate, optimization of brain wave function, regulation of respiratory rate, promotes muscle relaxation, increases the feeling of calm and general vitality, allowing a greater level of attention. In short, relaxation has the ability to provide the body with a state of general well-being by facilitating adequate synchronization between the physiological and psychological functioning of the individual.

    More specifically, relaxation has the following fundamental objectives: reduce or eliminate daily stress, increase general well-being, promote self-knowledge, increase self-esteem, improve the performance of the subject’s activity, improve management of disturbing situations or certain personal conflicts. , and therefore, opt for more satisfying interpersonal relationships.

    General considerations on procedures

    First of all, an aspect to take into account when implementing this type of technique is the fact that it is a set of learning that will be perfected as they are applied. The process requires a training phase that allows you to achieve better results after the exercises, so practice is an essential condition to assess its effectiveness.

    The time spent on relaxation exercises varies from 30 to 40 minutes per day for the first two weeks, then reducing the duration of the activity to around 10 minutes or by spacing it out every other day, for example.

    When implementing the training, it should be borne in mind that relaxation should be done as a priority in a quiet and peaceful room, Far from interruptions, with a pleasant temperature and moderate light (although not exclusive). In addition, it is recommended that the person wear comfortable and loose clothing.

    Effects of these techniques

    When the purpose of relaxation is to calm the high physiological activation in an intense anxiety situation, shorter relaxation procedures are used and tailored to the specific type of situation. When the goal is to lower the general level of activation, it is recommended to perform the most extensive exercise in terms of time in a calm context and without environmental stimulation.

    At the end of the training phase, the person it increases their perception of self-efficacy in controlling stressful situations and to maintain a general state of relaxation and well-being, decreasing the likelihood that further episodes of increased anxiety levels may occur.

    The training also allows greater self-control over disturbing thoughtsAs stated above, the physiological and psychological state are closely related to each other. Usually, relaxation techniques are applied as another component of a more comprehensive psychological intervention where the emotional, cognitive and behavioral areas are worked in more depth.

    On the other hand, it should be noted that depending on the individual, the practice of relaxation can make him experience new sensations that are unfamiliar to him. Since this is a totally common aspect, it is only recommended that the person know what type of reactions may have taken place before and why they are occurring. Some of these sensations may consist of: heaviness in a part of the body or vice versa, a feeling of lightness; sensation of sponging in the limbs; as well as tingling, a feeling of stillness or abandonment of the body, etc.

    Jacobson’s progressive relaxation

    This technique was developed in 1929 and is today one of the most widely used. consists of learn to tighten and relax different muscle groups in the body.

    Jacobson’s progressive relaxation is based on the fact that the stress response generates a number of thoughts and behaviors that cause muscle tension in the person. This tension increases the subjective perception of anxiety. Gradual relaxation reduces this muscle tension, and with it the feeling of anxiety.

    At the procedural level, training takes place over a minimum of seven weeks. During this period, the user will have to learn to tighten and relax 16 muscle groups throughout the body: hands, forearms, biceps, shoulders, forehead, eyes, jaw, neck, lips, neck, neck, back, chest, abdomen, legs (thighs and calves).

    The tension phase is carried out for the user learn to perceive the sensations associated with the onset of anxiety or tension, being these sensations the ones that will indicate to the person who needs to relax. This muscle tension allows the muscles to relax even more than if they had relaxed before. At the end of the workout, you will learn to relax the muscles directly without putting them under tension.


    In Jacobson’s progressive relaxation generally the following phases are followed:

    1. During the first two weeks, all 16 muscle groups will be stretched and then relaxed each day.
    2. During the third week, the relaxation time is reduced.
    3. In the fourth week, you learn to relax directly without straining your muscles first.
    4. During the fifth and sixth week, you learn to be relaxed while doing various activities while sitting as well as standing and walking.
    5. During the last week, rapid relaxation is practiced several times a day in non-stressful situations.
    6. Finally, relaxation begins to be applied in anxiety-inducing situations starting with those that cause less anxiety. Once you manage to decrease the anxiety in this situation, move on to the next one.


    More precisely, in each exercise of tension relaxation, the user has to tighten a group of muscles for about five or eight seconds. He will then focus his attention on the sensation he experiences in the face of this muscle tension. After those seconds, the person will relax that muscle group for ten or fifteen seconds, then focus on how they feel in the relaxed zone.

    Regarding the posture one maintain during the activityThis can be done in three different positions:

    • Sitting in an armchair, head resting, back and feet resting on the floor. The arms are relaxed on the thighs.
    • Lie down on a hard surface, so that the whole body and head are slightly elevated.
    • Position the driver, seated on a chair, body tilted forward, head resting on chest and arms above legs.

    Application of Jacobson’s progressive relaxation

    Jacobson’s progressive relaxation aims to teach the practitioner to distinguish between the sensation of tension and distension in the different parts of the body in which the training is distributed, making a total of 16 muscle groups.

    From this moment, the subject was able to optimally control which daily situations each cause feelings of tension-distension and how to proceed to relax the muscle groups in the event of an excess of tension. Tense situations generally, when they concern less pleasant emotions, they decrease with training, So that the emotional and psychological well-being of the individual tends to increase gradually.


    The following formulas can be used as an example of application instructions:

    In a comfortable and quiet place with little distracting stimulation, calm phrases are introduced such as “You are comfortable and relaxed, you can feel your breath, you don’t hear any noises, only silence …” . Later, starting to work the first muscle group, the following instructions are followed:

    1. He directs his attention to his right armIn the right hand in particular, close it, squeeze it firmly and observe the tension that occurs in the hand and in the forearm (for about 5 to 8 seconds).

    2. Stop making strength, Relax your hand and let it rest where you supported it. Observe the difference between tension and relaxation (10 to 15 seconds).

    3. Close your right fist again and feel the tension in the hand and forearm, observe carefully (10-15 seconds).

    4. And now relax the muscles and stop building up strength allowing your fingers to relax relaxed. Note again the difference between muscle tension and relaxation (10-15 seconds).

    And so on with other muscle groups: hands, forearms, biceps, shoulders, forehead, eyes, jaw, neck, lips, neck, neck, back, chest, abdomen, legs (thighs and calves).

    In short, Jacobson’s progressive relaxation training requires, as has been observed, the systematic, structured and well-sequenced application of all of the procedures that have been established in order to achieve an adequate level of effectiveness. It is therefore understood that it is the practice maintained over time that will allow a greater improvement in its performance, so that these types of exercises are internalized as a new daily routine.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Cautela JR, Groden J. Relaxation Techniques (1985. Practical Handbook for Adults, Children and Special Education). Barcelona: Martínez Roca.
    • Olivares, J. and Méndez, FX (2008). Behavior modification techniques. Madrid: New library.

    Leave a Comment