Bad news or a no-time-to-breathe workday can trigger stress, and it’s not just an emotional ride. Stress causes our muscles and joints to restrict, resulting in pain. “Anywhere in the body therefore can be sore; stiff in pain due to stress,” says Vicki Cook, health coach and expert in tension-releasing exercises at Golightly Coaching in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Anger, difficulty sleeping, headache, low energy, and moodiness can result, says Jordan Friedman, MPH, stress management speaker at The Stress Coach in New York City. Take time to stop and deal with worries to help prevent unwanted outcomes such as achy muscles, he says. Find the places in your body where tension hides and then try to let it go.
Get Body Conscious
Many people ignore the body’s stress signals and use TV, food, or alcohol as a comfort blanket, Cook says. Instead, reset for 30 seconds (or longer, if you can). During this time, scan your body and mind and look for places or thoughts that make you feel stressed, Friedman suggests. “I may feel it more in my shoulders and you may feel it more in your lower back.”
Add Some Exercise
Stay active to tame stress. Muscle tension also comes from lack of movement and poor blood circulation, Friedman says. “We go, go, go [mentally] and the muscles get tense and we don’t take any steps to de-stress and loosen them up. The tension just goes and goes and goes.” A great way to unwind: Go on a 10-minute run or brisk walk.
Watch for tension in these trouble zones:
Around 31 million Americans experience low-back pain, reports the American Chiropractic Association.
Do this: Foam rolling.
A handy foam roller helps reduce muscle tightness and release knots while providing a mini massage.
Your ribs may feel achy as a product of stress.
Do this: Press on an acupressure point.
Press gently on the top right side of your ribs to check for soreness. Apply an analgesic heat rub to the affected area or soak in an Epsom salt bath for quick relief. Or, consider seeing an acupressure professional.
Too much screen time can cause eyestrain, Friedman says.
Do this: Tech detox.
“Looking down at your computer monitor or on your phone all the time—your neck and eyes are focused in one position. There’s not a lot of movement of the muscles or circulation.”
Neck pain is exacerbated by habits like craning our necks to watch TV and spending a good portion of our time sitting in cars.
Do this: Mini neck massage.
Relieve kinks with a quick massage using your favorite essential oils.
Any constriction of the body—the blood vessels, the heart, the diaphragm, [or] the breathing, leads to a lower quality of energy and health,” Cook says.
Do this: Stand up.
Sitting for too long is linked to cardiac issues. Move around as often as you can.
Restless sleep or tensing up as a reaction to fear can cause upper body stiffness.
Do this: Make your bed.
Stretch out shoulders by making your bed each morning. That involves a good range of motion and will wake up your muscles.