Relaxation Practices help with coping with COVID-19

Feeling the effects of isolation? Try a targeted relaxation practice to help ease anxiety and improve sleep

Like most, I have found the physical isolation and social distancing occurring in light of COVID-19 a significant challenge. I don’t know anyone who has contracted COVID-19 personally, but I can imagine the time spent in quarantine would be particularly challenging. Being able to make a positive difference on a psychological level for people with coronavirus has good potential to help with coping and resilience. For there to be a published research article on this topic out already is testament to the significant impact of coronavirus on life as we knew it.

In a May 2020 publication, a Chinese research study is titled, “Effects of progressive muscle relaxation on anxiety and sleep quality of patients with COVID-19”.  Progressive Muscular Relaxation, or PMR for short, is a well-established guided relaxation practice that involves focusing on sensations of muscles contracting and then relaxing, throughout the body.

Based on clinical observation of patients with COVID-19, the researchers decided to examine anxiety and sleep quality on participants during their quarantine. In a randomized controlled clinical trial, 51 patients who entered an isolation ward were randomly divided into experimental and control groups. The experimental group was taught progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) technology and practised each day for 5 days for a period of 30 minutes. I was intrigued by this piece of research, being the first psychological intervention study that I’ve come across that addresses the impact of coronavirus. The researchers found support for both decreases in anxiety, and improvements in sleep quality, in the experimental group. That is impressive for 5 days of practice!

The positive effects of PMR have been demonstrated in many other research studies, and it has a strong evidence base behind it. PMR had its beginnings in the early 1900’s, when American doctor, Edmund Jacobsen, first presented on its benefits at Harvard University, followed by his book called Progressive Relaxation, in 1929. Since then, many research studies have supported PMR as an effective means of relaxing the body, and it has become a popular practice in clinical work. The practice invokes deep relaxation in the body via a sequential process of tensing and relaxing specific muscle groups. By contracting muscles before focusing on the sensations of relaxation, greater muscle lengthening and letting go can be achieved than through skipping the contracting of the muscles.

You can access the research article here.
And, if you’d like to try the practice out, it is a technique taught by many psychologists, and is featured on various meditation apps. I recently recorded a practice, which you can access here.

I uploaded this recorded practice of PMR onto a wonderful meditation app called Insight Timer. I was very fortunate to have this practice chosen as a staff pick one day last week, which meant it was featured on the app’s home page for 24 hours. I hope that the practice has been useful to the many listeners who have accessed it, thanks to Insight Timer; and if you listen to it, I hope it will be of benefit to you also. Don’t worry if the practice doesn’t resonate with you – in my teaching of relaxation and meditation practices, I find that a practice one person finds helpful can be the same practice another person doesn’t like so much. Trying different practices is good for training the mind with new perspectives, and helps you work out what practices work best for you. Training with various meditation practices also gives you a psychological tool-kit from which to draw on when different challenges arise. I am presently offering online meditation training, including practices such as PMR, both to individuals and to groups, and you can find out more about these offerings at my website.

Meditation apps are another way of accessing a great diversity of meditation practices. Some focus on relaxation; others on clarity of focus; or guided meditations for sleep. Relaxation and meditation practices offer many benefits, and can provide a welcome respite from the ongoing stress we all face in this global pandemic. In addition to Insight Timer, a couple of other personal favourite meditation apps I like to use are Ten Percent Happier, and Calm. Each of these apps have put together a set of resources to help cope with anxiety and build resilience in this time of the coronavirus epidemic, which can be accessed for free at their respective websites.

Stay well, and enjoy some focused relaxation.