5 Quick Tips on Reducing Daily Physical Stress
The hustle and bustle of living in a big city like New York can wreak havoc on your immune system and mental state. Carrying emotional and physical stress throughout the day can lead to a wide array of health issues. The way we hold tension in our bodies on a daily basis affects energy, anxiety levels and interpersonal relationships. It can also cause acute and chronic musculoskeletal pain including stiff neck, shoulder discomfort, back pain, and if left untreated, injury. Becoming aware of how we carry stress can be the first step towards relief. Here are a few quick tips to help you reduce daily stress:
1. Notice your posture. Does your head protrude forward with shoulders elevated when on the computer? Does your lower back collapse when holding your bag over your shoulder? Are you slouching when on the elliptical machine or running at the gym? To counteract poor posture, gently draw your naval into your spine. Imagine a string running from just below your belly button up the length of your spine to the top of the head. Next, gently draw your shoulder blades together and allow them to drop back and down. Lastly, pull your chin and head straight back, making sure to keep it level so that it is sitting atop your spine. Repeat this periodically throughout the day. You will feel “taller” instantly as you create more space in the joints giving those tense muscles a break.
2. Be mindful of your breath. Do you find yourself holding your breath slightly in everyday situations such as waiting in lines, while working to meet a deadline at the office, or even during a challenging pose in yoga class? The muscles involved with respiration attach to the rib cage, so holding the breath causes hyper tonicity (overuse) in these muscles. The result is neck stiffness and shoulder tightness, adding to chronic postural dysfunction. Holding the breath can also put the nervous system on “high alert,” causing more physiological stress. It can increase blood pressure and heart rate, and can also affect digestion. Becoming aware of your breathing and finding a rhythm in your breath will allow your body to tap into the parasympathetic nervous system (the system that calms us) and will help those muscles relax. So, take a slow deep breath and let it go.
3. Strive for physical balance. Notice how long you sit in comparison to how many hours you stand or walk in a given day. If you spend your day at a desk, make sure to find time to stand and stretch. If you lift weights 5 days a week, break it up: take a Pilates or yoga class. Use weekend time for extra stretching, longer walks, or other recreational activity that’s different from your normal physical routine. Your body will thank you.
4. Retrain the brain. Gratitude and positive thoughts can increase the “feel good” hormones in the brain and help the body feel more open and alive. Every time you catch yourself thinking something negative about your body, use a positive affirmation to rebut. Instead of “I hate my stomach,” say, “I love my amazing abs and the way they hold my posture in an upright position.” The body does what the brain tells it to, so be kind and gentle.
5. Declare authority (be proactive) over your stress. Find a positive support system and make the commitment to work on reducing tension. Spiritual practice, support meetings, or the right health professional for bodywork and psychotherapy can provide you with tools to help achieve a healthier, balanced life.
Good news! Muscles have memory, so the more you practice these tips, the more automatically the body/brain will respond. Remember, self-awareness is a process, so even a little effort will go a long way to finding the relief that your body and mind deserve.
This blog is not intended to diagnosis, treat or cure any medical conditions.