Monday, February 3, 2014

5 Ways Our Bodies Tense Up & Cause Stress

Some of you may know that last year I suffered from Exertion Migraines which were caused by a pinched Ocipital nerve in the back of my neck. These migraines were debilitating. After seeing a neurologist I was sent to physical therapy to get that pinch worked out. I learned quite a few things that helped tremendously. I'd like to share them with you just in case you or someone you know could be suffering from the same thing. If you'd like to know more about the migraines please feel free to send me a personal message and I'll be happy to talk about it. 

Here are five ways (in my opinion) that our bodies collect stress without us even realizing it. (most of the time)

1. Driving. When my physical therapist told me she tenses up when she's driving, I realized that I do too; and probably so many other people do as well. The next time you're driving, think about your shoulders. Are they up a little higher than normal? 

2. Using the computer. Often times we use the computer and probably don't even realize how tensed up we are. Maybe we're typing up a paper for school that is due the next day, or maybe we are simply checking emails and posting on our blog. Our shoulders may be (again) higher than normal, we may have our legs clenched tightly underneath the computer chair and our arms are probably tensed up from typing.

3. Mental Stress. Constant mental stress keeps the body in constant tension. 

4. Lack of sleep. This one is part of a vicious cycle. Lack of sleep can cause so much more than just tension or stress to your body. (Most of us know this) If you are losing sleep, your body is most likely more tense during the day than someone who sleeps regularly. With tension also comes sleep loss if you are unable to relax. See, vicious cycle. 

5. Poor posture. Did this one surprise you? When we "hunch" over while eating or doing other daily activities, we are creating tension in the back, shoulders and neck. Slouching and shallow breathing combined can cause blood flow problems as well. I've noticed I slouch when brushing my teeth. Weird huh? Since I'm in front of a mirror I usually see it right away and correct it. 

"Chronic tension affects each of us differently. Depending on the person it can cause sleep disturbance, increased or decreased appetite, headaches, stomach aches, poor concentration or irritability. Some diseases may be caused by or made worse by chronic tension. Also, our immune system can be weakened. Thus, making us more susceptible to colds and other infections. "

You may be asking, "So how do you relieve some of this tension?"
Here are some things I learned in physical therapy that I still do every day, to prevent chronic tension from returning. 

 Neck stretches: There are four different neck stretches I do. Some more than others because hey, let's face it, some are much more convenient to do than the rest; but they all work wonders!

*Sit in a chair. Hold onto the bottom of the chair with one hand (not too tight) slightly tilt head (ear to shoulder) lean away from the arm that's holding the chair and just breathe. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
*The second one is similar to the first one but instead of tilting your head, turn your nose to your armpit then lean away from the arm that's holding the chair. Hold for 30 seconds.

*The third stretch is my favorite. Stand with feet shoulder width apart, tilt head down (chin to chest), clasp hands together and pull your arms forward (gently) until you feel a stretch in the space between your shoulders and neck and around your shoulder blades. Hold for 30 seconds. 

*This stretch is very effective. It can hurt if you go too far.
Place your forearms on a door jam at shoulder height, take a small step forward, title head down and lean forward very gently. Hold for 30 seconds. 

Here's a technique my physical therapist taught me to relieve stress in the upper neck/base of the head:
Take two tennis balls, put them in an old (clean) long sock. Tie the end but leave enough room for the balls to move a little. For tension in the neck, push the balls close together, lay on the floor and place the balls directly on the spot that is tight. Lay there for 5 minutes or more, depending on how long it takes to release the tightness. 

Another great thing to remember is to pay attention to your shoulders.
 Look in the mirror, let your shoulders drop and hang (as they should). Do this throughout the day and it will help relieve more tension than it seems! 
For mental stress relief, I would recommend mediation. I've heard great things about meditation and have been trying my own form during the early morning hours before my kids are awake. 

How do you relax?
Have you (or someone you know) suffered from migraines, possibly caused by stress?


  1. Love all these tips! Especially the one about putting two tennis balls in a sock, genius :)

    I think I am the worst offenders on points 2, 4 and 5...oops!

    1. I forgot to add one with the tennis balls. You can place them on any tight spot or knot in your back, lean against a wall and slowly move up and down and side to side to massage the tight spot. Physical therapists sure know their stuff! :-)

  2. I suffered bad growing up. And when I was pregnant the first trimester I never wanted to get out of bed. It seems like after kids it's few and far between. I have terrible posture, always have been. I never thought about the stress part.

    1. Yikes! I'm sorry to hear that! It's pretty interesting how much tension we cause w/out even realizing it!

  3. These are great tips! I know I tense up when driving and hunch at the computer, so definitely something to work on. I'm definitely going to try the stretches.

    1. These stretches are the best! I'm supposed to do them twice a day, but I tend to get too busy, so I try to do them at least once a day. I am so thankful for physical therapists!


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