Muscle relaxation has always been a staple in stress reduction, but is often not something we jump to when we recognize stress or other uncomfortable emotions. In fact, we often unnecessarily carry emotional stress in our muscles long after a stressful event or situation has passed. To combat the negative effects stress has on our bodies and minds many researchers and clinicians suggest engaging in activities like yoga or deep breathing. When we hold tension in our muscles we are sending our brain the signal to release cortisol, the stress hormone. This is a good thing if we need to be primed for action, but can have adverse effects on our mental and physical health if we don’t counter act the cortisol after the stressful even has passed. In the fast-paced world we live in, with near constant stressors being thrown our way, it is rare that people can or do take the time needed to fully relieve their muscles of the stress impact, and thus it builds throughout the day.
Maybe you cant skip that stressful work meeting to go to a yoga class, but what if you could de-stress without leaving the office, or even de-stress in the stressful moment itself. You can. Here is a 5-step tip to help you tap into stress reduction throughout the day.
1- Check in with yourself throughout the day to see if you are feeling stress. Even little amounts of stress can have a big impact on your mental and physical health. Being aware of when we are feeling stress is the first step to stress reduction.
2- Rate your stress level on a scale of 0-10 so that after the muscle relaxation you can have a gauge of how it worked and if you need to take a few more seconds to relax and bring yourself further down the scale.
3- Do a body scan to assess how and where your body is holding the stress? Are you feeling tight, tense, pain, aching, fidgeting, or tingling? Are there any more subtle areas are holding tension?
4- Consciously release the tension of this area as you exhale. Imagine the muscle relaxing even if you can’t fully feel it right away. Drop your shoulders away from your ears, let your hips and legs rest heavy on the seat, and soften the muscles in your face and neck.
5- Repeat. Now that you’re more relaxed notice if there are other areas in need of relaxation.
This activity done frequently in short periods of time throughout a day may have a bigger impact on your stress reduction than that yoga class you’ve been meaning to get to. So the next time you get cut off on the freeway, overloaded with another task at work, or frustrated with your child notice how your body responds and let go of the tension in your muscles.