Woman doing shoulder and neck stretches to relieve muscle tension

Causes of Muscle Tension or Tightness

Office warriors might be familiar with tension in the neck and shoulder muscles: the tight feeling we get after long hours of OT and stressing over deadlines.

What causes tightness? When we’re stressed, our bodies go into “fight or flight” mode and our muscles — commonly neck and shoulder muscles — tense up in preparation for action.

Pay attention to the way you’re sitting or standing right now. When anxious, we’re typically hunched, with shoulders tensed up to our ears and arms slightly forward like we’re guarding against a threat, whether it’s a performance review with the big boss or a hungry predator.

This tension from our stress response can continue to build up when we’re experiencing chronic stress. Over time, this could lead to discomfort and pain.

How To Relieve Muscle Ache and Tension

What can we do to relieve bodily stress before it turns into a real pain in the neck?

We need to first be aware of the tension we’re carrying before we can take steps to relax it. Our relaxed muscles will then tell the brain that stress has lessened, and this will further calm us down.

Related: Stress Can Be Good for You

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Now let’s learn a simple muscle relaxation technique that involves tensing and releasing different muscles to help you achieve deeper relaxation progressively.

  1. Wear loose clothing and position yourself comfortably in a chair. Concentrate on only one target part of your body at a time.
  2. Raise your eyebrows as high as possible. Hold for 10 seconds, then relax.
  3. Shut your eyes tightly. Hold for 10 seconds, then relax and open your eyes.
  4. Clench your teeth tightly. Hold for 10 seconds, then relax.
  5. Squeeze your eyes, nose, and mouth together (scrunch up your face). Hold for 10 seconds, then relax.
  6. Bring your chin slowly to your chest. Hold for 10 seconds, then slowly bring your chin to the starting position.
  7. Bend your head to the right until you feel a nice stretch on the left side of your neck. Hold for 10 seconds, then return your head to an upright position.
  8. Repeat step 7 bending to your left instead.
  9. Clench your right fist tightly. Raise your right arm in front of you until it’s parallel to the floor and stretch it as far as you can. Hold for 10 seconds, then let your right arm fall to your side.
  10. Repeat step 9 with your left arm.
  11. Repeat step 10 with both arms at the same time.
  12. Pull your stomach muscles in. Hold for 10 seconds, then relax.
  13. Raise your right leg straight in front of you, tensing your thigh and calf muscles as you pull your toes back towards you. Hold for 10 seconds, then let your right leg down.
  14. Repeat step 13 with your left leg.
  15. Repeat step 14 with both legs at the same time.

The next time you’re feeling stressed, take some time to relax your muscles. When your muscles relax, you might find yourself more at ease and ready to take on challenges.

Want more quick relief? Check out the video below for some simple stretches you can do to release tension in the neck and shoulder muscles — areas commonly affected by stress.

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