Have you ever been typing, and suddenly notice that your shoulders have risen and crunched up? “Ouch,”you think as you tilt your head to the left and rub your neck. I am all too familiar with this scenario. Once, my shoulders seemed to almost meet my ears! I could feel my mind panicking – well aware that I’m currently in a state of stress overload. “But, just one more deadline,” I think. “Just one more meeting. Just one more… Keep going. Push.”
When are we going to take the time to relax and engage in self-care? Although relaxation and self-care may seem like commodities, it is undeniable that health is not. Health is a necessity. So, why delay “you-time” or a moment to breathe, when calming your nervous system is an integral part of surviving and thriving? Chronic (prolonged) stress is not normal, and it’s important to calm down and ease muscle tension. Taking time to address chronic stress in our lives can be transformative for our physical health, mental health, and even our skin! Here are the potential ways chronic stress impacts the body and mental health. We will also talk about potential ways to mitigate these effects.
When we are under stress, our muscles often contract meaning they tighten up. Trigger points or “muscle knots” can occur after a muscle has been contracted repetitively. “A myofascial trigger point is a hyperirritable spot, usually within a taut band of skeletal muscle, which is painful on compression.
Photocred: Massage Hope
Pressure on sensitive points in your muscles (trigger points) causes pain in the muscle and sometimes in seemingly unrelated parts of your body.Muscle knots can prevent good circulation and cause lymphatic fluid to pool (stagnate) in the body, leading to further inflammation.Lymph, also called lymphatic fluid, is a collection of the extra fluid that drains from cells and tissues (that is not reabsorbed into the capillaries) plus other substances. The other substances include proteins, minerals, fats, nutrients, damaged cells, and foreign invaders (bacteria, viruses, etc). Lymph also transports infection-fighting white blood cells (lymphocytes).
Constant alertness (i.e hypervigilance, inability to relax)
Furthermore, we when are chronically stressed, we are constantly in a heightened state, and our muscles respond accordingly. Specifically, the psoas is the main muscle involved in the “fight or flight” response of the body. The psoas muscle is located in the lower lumbar region (lower back) of the spine and extends through the pelvis to the femur.
Photocred: Physical Therapy and Wellness Center
When you're startled, your psoas contracts. When you experience mental or emotional stress, the psoas will respond by tightening. The constant contraction causes pain, anxiety, and fatigue. In addition, constantly having high levels of cortisol (stresshormone) can compromise our immune system. When we have chronic tension due to chronic stress, it is so essential that we take little steps to transform our routine. The longer we wait to address these issues, the harder it will be to physically decompress and relax.
What can I do to potentially ease muscle tension? How do I prioritize it?
It’s true that having a busy schedule can greatly prevent us from doing relaxing things, but along with calendar apps, it’s more convenient than ever to schedule a massage, a yoga class, or a spa date. Let’s start with massages. Massages don’t just relax you, but they’re shown to have a significant benefit to our overall health, especially in the case of muscle tension.
1. Get a massage from a licensed masseuse, do a spa date, or get a wellness clinic appointment.
Pressure stimulus applied over trigger points (TPs), is reported to have excellent therapeutic effects. Massages increase parasympathetic activity. Your parasympathetic nervous system is a network of nerves that relaxes your body after periods of stress or danger. It also helps run life-sustaining processes, like digestion, during times when you feel safe and relaxed. Parasympathetic activity also lowers blood pressure and vasoconstriction (the narrowing of blood veins). And as we all know, high blood pressure can lead to a whole host of other health problems. Massages can also help drain lymphatic waste, improve circulation, improve inflammation, loosen muscles, and ease anxiety. Chronic inflammation is also associated with a variety of health issues, and chronic tension only increases if not addressed. So, it’s important to prioritize and schedule times to do activities such as massages. There are also other services at clinics and medi spas that work with trigger points.
Photocred: Reindhart Chiropractic
So, yoga is a great way to get this done, and as mentioned before, make your psoas muscle happy. But, it’s not the only way. Stretching alone is a great way to ease muscle tension and activate parasympathetic activity. Particularly, stretching your legs is a wonderful tool for relaxing.When faced with high stress, your body tenses up, including your legs. On top of that, imagine you’re sitting at a desk for a long period of time can, and it’s also causing you leg tension. So, when you start to feel discomfort from sitting for a while (sedentary posture), that means it’s time for you to get up and stretch – even if it’s in the middle of the work day. Stretching can increase circulation and decrease lymphatic fluid pooling. It’s good to address bodily discomfort because it typically gets worse, is harder to treat, and becomes a cause of anxiety, further mental stress, and even low moods.
3. Breathe and try to relax your abdomen muscles
Photocred: Chopra center
There’s something called the “four-count breath.” You breathe in from your diaphragm for four seconds, hold it for four seconds, and you exhale for four seconds. You can do this in your car, whilst typing, or even during a meeting.
Breathing practice is also known as “diaphragmatic breathing,” and a 1-day breathing exercise was found to relieve the emotional exhaustion and depersonalization induced by job burnout (Salyers et al., 2011). Physiological evidence has indicated that even a single breathing practice significantly reduces blood pressure. When it comes to whether or not breathing practices have significant mental or physical health benefits, studies are inconsistent. But, it is certainly known that increasing blood oxygen serves us well.
So, overall decreasing chronic stress and chronic tension is a wonderful way to achieve a higher level of wellness, and self-care is not as time-consuming as one would think. In fact, it may be intentional breathing for 5 minutes while multitasking, making a scheduled appointment, or a purchase from Amazon that can help you stretch. Self-care helps us shine, thrive, and love our reflection!
This article is not medical advice. This article is for informational or educational purposes only and does not substitute professional medical advice or consultations with healthcare professionals. This material is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified healthcare provider.