We all know how stress affects the mind, but it also affects the muscles in our body. The most common areas we tend to hold stress are in the neck, shoulders, hips, hands and feet. Planning one of your stretch sessions around these areas can help calm your mind and calm your body.
When we experience stressful situations whether in a moment or over time, we tend to feel tension in the neck. Your shoulders hike up, causing tightness in the muscles along the back and side of your neck. Stress puts the neck muscles in a constant state of slight contraction, which can lead to unwanted tension. This tension leads to restricted range of motion, that feeling of having a knot in your neck, and sometimes tension or migraine headaches.
Stretching your neck will provide some relief. Not only is the experience of getting stretched relaxing, but the result is a lengthening of the muscles, allowing them to return to their natural, more relaxed state. Your neck will have greater range of motion, making your head feel lighter and your face more relaxed.
SHOULDERS / UPPER BODY
We tend to hold a lot of stress in our shoulders causing them to round or hunch forward. This postural change reduces our mobility and puts added strain on our head, neck and upper back. Rounded shoulders also affect our ability to take full and complete breaths as the space in which our rib cage wants to move is restricted.
Stretching the muscles in your shoulders helps to open up and reduce the built-up tension in the upper body. As the shoulders relax and find their proper state, you experience a more open and relaxed posture. Your rib cage has more room to expand and the strain is taken off your head and neck.
If you study or practice yoga, you are familiar with the concept that we store a lot of stress and emotions in our hips. We’ve seen clients have an emotional reaction when we make significant improvements to their hip mobility during a session. The stress and restriction in your hips inhibit your comfort and your range of motion. Every movement we make begins with the hips, if they are not properly balanced and mobile, the effects resonate through your body – most commonly in the low back.
When you experience a proper series of stretches to open your hips, the effects can be felt on your entire lower body – you’ll feel lighter and move with more freedom. Some clients report a sense of calm, relaxation and release.
When we are feeling stressed, the muscles in our hands begin to clench, sometimes we don’t even notice it happening. Even when you are not holding something, they will stay in that tense position. This tension causes constriction to the tendons of the hands from the palm up through the tips of the fingers. This can have a negative impact on the forearm and the elbow. A common example would be similar to carpal tunnel syndrome – as the muscles in the hands and wrists begin to constrict, the nerves become inflamed from all of the pressure.
Stretching the hands will give you a feeling of letting go, literally. The hands will begin to relax releasing the tension from your fingertips up through your forearm.
It is not commonly known that we hold a lot of stress in our feet. The result is restrictions in how the mechanics of our feet perform, especially in the arches, where we carry all of our weight. When the mechanics are not working properly, you put pressure on certain areas of the foot which are not designed to carry the load of your body on their own. The resulting tension and pain can resonate from the feet up the through your calf and behind your knee.
Having your feet and toes stretched may seem like an odd concept but the results are incredible. You’ll feel your toes open and your foot relax. Keeping your feet happy is a major factor in keeping your whole body happy. We ask a lot of our feet and they are so often overlooked.
Keep stress and its affect on your body at bay by taking time out of every day to focus on you. Put your phone down, try some deep breathing, go for a walk, and of course, focus on stretching.