Not only is stress a mental and emotional drain, it can also cause physical problems. It seems like everywhere we turn these days there is more stress. We face the stress of raising kids, supporting a family, building meaningful relationships, and so much more.
Sometimes it seems as if there is no answer to stress but prescription medications. That is not the case. An excellent way to relieve stress is by stretching; that is because stress tends to settle in the upper back shoulders, and neck. It can make you feel tight and uncomfortable. It can even be very painful.
A few simple stretches, incorporated into your daily routine should help relieve stress. Most of the following stretches are derived from yoga. Begin the stretch at a level with which you are comfortable and progress as you become more flexible.
You will find that most stress relieving stretches are long, passive reclining poses. Small muscle groups are used to activate these stretches, but most do not require extensive use of muscle groups.
Stretch to relieve stress: Roll Neck Stretch
One of the easiest and most relaxing stretches to remove stress is a simple roll neck stretch. Place a cylindrical pillow or rolled blanket or towel under your neck between your skull and neck. Relax, laying flat on the floor, with the pillow under your neck. I find it helpful to place my palms, face down, over my eyes. As you relax, allow air from your diaphragm to push slowly and gently against your neck so that it begins to roll over the pillow. As you feel your muscles unwind, allow them to release.
Stretch to relieve stress: Neck Stretch with no props
I carry a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders. In addition, I have the beginning of arthritis in my neck. It isn’t always easy to relieve the pain, but I find that by laying flat on the floor and performing a slight abdominal lift with my arms beneath my body allows a better stretch and a greater release of tension than the roll neck stretch. As you lift your torso, using your hamstrings, press you shoulder blades into the floor and stretch your neck. Allow the pressure of your abdominal push and gravity to elongate your neck and spine. Continue until you feel the tension in your neck, back, and shoulders release.
Stretch to relieve stress: Arm and shoulder stretch
This stretch can easily be done at your desk. It is a great stress reliever for those who must sit hunched over a keyboard all day. All you have to do is pull one arm straight across your body. Reach under and place your other arm perpendicular to the stretched arm around the upper area of the bicep. Use the opposite arm for leverage to help pull your arm into a nice relaxing stretch. Repeat on the other side. This simple stretch can be performed any time of day relieving stress and relaxing your shoulder blades.
Stretch to relieve stress: Neck Release
This is a stretch that you have probably already discovered on your own. It can also be done at your desk. You will find it more effective in relieving tension and stress when you apply a little more polished technique. Instead of rolling your head from side to side to relieve tension, you can use your hands for a little leverage. Place your hand all the way over your head. Use your other hand to reach up and pull down slightly on the divot in the shoulder blade. Pull in the opposite direction that you are stretching your head. Start with small stretches only to the point of tension. As you feel your neck muscles release, you can take the stretch a little farther. This stretch will leave you feeling refreshed and invigorated.
Stretch to relieve stress: Waterfall stretch
It has an odd name, but it is an easy stretch. Stand with your feet slightly more than shoulder width apart. Reach down as though you were stretching your hamstrings. Use your legs to keep you stable and balanced. Place your arms parallel and grasp them together over your head. Allow your arms to pull you down. You are bent at the waste so there should be no pressure on your spine or neck. The pull of gravity should help relieve stress in your back and neck.
Stretch to relieve stress: Classic neck stretch
Try to keep your spine straight. Clasp your hands behind the back of your head. Move your head down, as though you were trying to push your chin to your chest. Use your hands, clasped behind your head, to push into a deeper more relaxing stretch. Adjust your position to relieve stress further down your spine. This stretch relieves stress from your neck and shoulders all the way to your mid-back.
Stretch to relieve stress: Upward Facing Dog
Upward facing dog is a standard yoga pose, but when held for several seconds it provides tremendous relief to your back and makes you feel refreshed. It is as if Upward facing dog pushes stress from your body. To perform this stretch lay down on your tummy on the floor. Lift your head and upper torso up until you are resting on your hands, outstretched in front of you, and the top of your toes, bent under. Draw your head back a little and lift your head a little to achieve the most out of this stretch.
If you cannot lift yourself off of the ground, hold the position with your legs on the floor. Still stretch your neck back slightly and feel the extension in your spine. In Yoga, this is known as a low cobra pose.
Stretch to relieve stress: Modified Child’s Pose
A child’s pose involves sitting back on your bent legs. Your back should be extended and feel the stretch as you bend down and reach your hands out in front of you. This is a relaxing pose, but a better stress buster is a modified child’s pose. Sit on your legs, with your knees bent and feet touching. Spread your legs about shoulder width apart. Place a pillow or rolled blankets between your legs to a height that is equal to your thighs when you lean forward. With your legs bent, bend at the waste , stretch your spine, and come down onto the pillow. Allow your arm to res at an approximate 90 degree angle on either side of the pillow. This is such a comforting and stress relieving pose that you might find you want to stay in this stretch for a while.
Stretch to relieve stress: Arm and shoulder windmill stretches
This is another great stress relieving stand up pose. It gets your blood flowing and helps you feel more energized. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Reach out with both hands. Reach on both sides as if you were reaching to grasp something. This creates a good stretch in the shoulder blades. With your arms extended to your side, continue to face the front, but turn your upper torso as far as you can to the right and hold. Then turn it as far as you can to the left and hold. Repeat this two times before adding an additional stretch.
With your arms still outstretched, reach your hand toward your opposite ankle. Move your other arm upward at an angle in symmetry. Reach the stretch as far as you can, bend only at the waste. Return to the upright position and reach with the opposite arm to the other foot or ankle. Hold the stretch enjoying the relaxing feeling in your spine.
Stretch to relieve stress: Thread the Needle
This stretch begins on the floor on your hands and knees. Your hands should be planted firmly in front of you. Your knees should be in line with your hips. Take one arm and reach underneath your body and all the way through to the other side. Bend down as you stretch and feel the stretch through your back and shoulder blade. Allow the shoulder blade of the arm that is reaching to touch the floor. This stretch is known as threading the needle. It is a powerful stress relieving stretch. Roll slightly on your shoulder to release extra stress and tension. Repeat the stretch threading the other arm, reaching, and allowing your shoulder blade to come to rest on the floor.
This position will leave you so relaxed and stress free that you may want to take a few minutes to lie, belly down on the floor, propping your forehead only on your arms clasped in front of you over your head.