Advanced Relaxation Skills

In the Uprise program, we teach a skill called ‘Controlled Breathing’. This post has some revision about that skill as well as a way to do an advanced version called Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) which has been shown to improve sleep.


Stress and Breathing

A little amount of stress is helpful. When we’re stressed, our brain releases hormones – like adrenaline – which help us to focus and succeed.

But, there is a limit to the amount of stress our body can tolerate. Too much stress, especially for long periods of time, can lead to feeling overwhelmed and dissatisfied.

So why does stress, an abstract concept in our mind, cause a physical change in our bodies? It’s partly because chronic stress is linked to shallow breathing, and shallow breathing gradually causes the acidity of our blood to change.

Also, when we’re overly stressed, our brain automatically thinks there is a threat to our safety, and triggers various survival techniques, known as the fight-or-flight response.

This fight-or-flight response would have been useful to our ancestors thousands of years ago, when they were stressed over being eaten alive by a lion in the wilderness. But unfortunately, our system hasn’t evolved to understand the difference between real and perceived threats. A looming deadline at work can invoke a similar reaction in our body as a roaring lion. We might fight (get angry or irritated at our colleagues), flee (avoid the situation) or freeze (have a mind blank).

The good news is there is a quick and simple way to tune down the survival response so you can refocus: It’s called Controlled Breathing.


Controlled Breathing Steps:

Relax your shoulders, plant your feet firmly onto the floor and breath in and out slowly on our count. When you are breathing in, you want to feel your stomach expanding like a balloon and when you are breathing out, you want to let all the air out.


Breathe in to the count of three.

Hold for 2 seconds

Breathe out to the count of three.

Hold for 2 seconds

Repeat for 3 minutes to get the effect 

Advanced Relaxation: PMR

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is where you practice controlled breathing as above but when you breathe in, you tense up the muscles in different parts of the body. You also breathe in and out for longer than normal controlled breathing.

Here are the steps:

Breathe in for as long as is comfortable while tensing up a muscle group from the list below.

Hold for as long as comfortable.

Breathe out for as long as you’d like. Take a rest at the end and breathe normally for about 10 seconds.

Repeat for 3 minutes to get the effect.


Muscle Groups: Tense a different one each time you breathe in and tense the same group 3 times before moving to the next one. Do these sitting comfortably in a chair or lying down.

  • Left arm out in front of you like a rod and clenching your fist as hard as is still comfortable

  • Right arm out in front of you like a rod and clenching your fist as hard as is still comfortable

  • Left leg by lifting it up as high as is comfortable and curling your toes up

  • Right leg by lifting it up as high as is comfortable and curling your toes up

  • Shoulders by lifting them up towards your ears while clenching your jaw and screwing up your face as much as is comfortable

  • Whole body all at once by doing all of the above


Practice controlled breathing or PMR for 2-3 minutes each day as a preventative exercise to make sure stress doesn’t build up by actively rebalancing the acidity changes in your blood that are caused by stress and shallow breathing. Second, practice controlled breathing in moments of high stress. Doing it somewhere you won’t be interrupted is best but just focus on slowing the breath down if you have to stay in a public space.

Uprise is a preventative employee assistance program (EAP) provider that improves employee engagement, retention and performance by enhancing psychological wellbeing. Learn more about how our program solves employee stress.