Busy, Stressed and Tense? Five Quick Remedies from a Massage Therapist

A man squished against a glass wall by a mountain of crumpled paper

Slow down

It’s part of daily life to rush from one place to another with no thought for how it affects your body. Often, expressing pain is our bodies way of asking us to slow down. If there are duties you cannot simply stop (like child care or paid work) then taking a small break can still be beneficial. A quick nap is proven to help you relax, reducing their stress levels. There are times when you’re tired, but napping just isn’t an option. But even taking a quick rest—closing your eyes, putting your feet up, and clearing your mind for a couple of minutes is almost as beneficial.

Breathe

When stress gets into our body, one of the first responses is that the autonomous nervous system begins to redirect energy towards a flight or fight response. The autonomous nervous system controls the bodily functions we do all the time, without thinking, like keeping our heart beating, blood flowing and of course, our lungs breathing. Our natural inclination to this alert is to draw in more oxygen to keep the heart rate up. By, for example, engaging the muscles around the lungs to aid inhalation and exhalation. The intercostals (the muscles between our ribs), the muscles around the neck and collarbones and sometimes our shoulders begin to take on the work of expanding and contracting the lungs. Over time this leads to muscular tension; a feeling tightness or not being able to catch one’s breath. When you stop to rest, try practicing 4-7-8 breathing. Breathe in for four counts, hold it in for seven counts and release it for eight counts. Do this for a few rounds of breath. This controlled breathing should help you relax these muscles, and your brain will send the signals of recuperation down through your nervous system, helping you to let go of any effort that isn’t necessary.

Exercise

Rest must be taken in tandem with regular physical exercise. Something as simple as increasing your daily step count can vastly reduce stress levels. Firstly, because taking the time to do something for your body is calibrating; warming the musculature, driving the blood flow and enlivening the nervous system with some delicious endorphins. But also, perhaps, more importantly, increased physical health can prepare your body to deal with the stressors of daily life more effectively on a regular basis.

Stretch

Foot tapping, fist clenching, jaw grinding or shoulder gripping are all musculature responses to stress. Once these tension patterns seep into our daily routine, the resulting overwork leads to stiffness which can feel permanent. In fact, your posture does begin to change when stress-induced tension patterns creep in. This inevitably leads to long-term biomechanical issues, like joint pain, muscle knots and strain. Which further lead to injury. Stretching is one of the techniques you can use to redirect energy away from tension sites and elongate muscles that have wound up during the day.

Manipulation you can do at home

A study done by the University of Miami found that a 15-minute self-massage while at work increased mental acuity and alertness. Self-massage is so natural that we do it sometimes without realizing it. If you have ever sat back in your chair and rubbed your tired eyes or squeezed the back of your neck, you’re engaging in self-massage. By learning to target these brief, natural massages to certain areas of the body, you can ease aches and pains while lowering your stress levels. In addition to using your hands, using foam rollers and massage balls can make attending to your own aches and pain relatively cheap and quick. There are several means of mechanical massage on the market now that use a mixture of heat, vibration and rollers to aid relaxation. But these can be expensive. Many use a one size fits all policy so make sure you try before you buy so that you can ensure it adapts well to your shape and particular needs.

Though self-massage can be helpful, it doesn’t replace the benefits of therapeutic massage from a registered, seasoned massage therapist. In addition to regular self-massage, make a point of receiving at least occasional massages from an expert, and ask them for more tips on personalized massages you can do yourself.

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