Do you carry all your stress in your neck and shoulders? If you do, you’re in good company. It’s very common for people to overly tense the muscles in the neck and shoulders when they’re under a lot of stress. My massage therapist even has a special name for that area: the coat hanger. And if you visualize where you feel the tension and perhaps pain when you’re under stress for an extended period, it’s pretty much in the shape of a coat hanger.
Stress is part of life and a certain amount of stress will not negatively affect you. But it’s important to monitor the stress you’re under, reduce it if it’s too much (and you’re able to), and find ways to mitigate its effects.
You can certainly do some things to reduce the number of stressful situations you encounter. If feeling like you never have enough free time is a stressor for you, you can say “no” to some volunteer obligations and not over-schedule your free time. If clutter at home is a stressor, you can work to declutter your house. But there are things in life that are not within your control and those stressors will be there whether you like it or not. It’s okay not to be happy about it or even pissed. But you still have to deal with it somehow.
Recently, I’ve been bombarded with a multitude of stressors that I have no control over. And to be honest, it’ll probably get worse before it gets better. That’s the reality of it. I have years of experience and practice being aware of my body and how I react to stress. I have honed my skills at releasing unwanted tension, so it doesn’t build up and chronic muscle pain results. But do I still tense my neck and shoulders when I’m under a lot of stress? Heck yes! I’m an expert at it.
These past few months have been a real test. Some days I’m doing better than others. The better days are the ones when I can use very simple tools repeatedly throughout the day to help myself. One of my favorites is what I’ll call Finding the Floor.
Take a moment to just tense up your shoulders and pull them up toward your ears. Even if you’re already tense you can probably do it a bit more for this little experiment. What does it feel like when you’ve got your shoulders up ‘round your ears? I feel like I’m trying to hold everything up. And it’s exhausting. Let that go now.
Nothing bad happened, did it? That’s because you have a big substantial ribcage that comes up underneath your shoulder girdle and provides support for it. When you just let go of your shoulders they came down to rest on top of that ribcage. The support of the ribcage allows for the release of the shoulders.
That was probably pretty easy to tense up your shoulders and let go but what about the tension that’s still there? What if you feel like you’re holding on to your entire body when you’re stressed, not just the neck and shoulders? How do you start to let go? Especially if the stressors are still there? I start by not trying. Instead, I focus on support.
Try shifting your attention for a moment to your contact with the floor and any other physical object you’re in contact with that’s supporting your weight somewhat. For example, the seat or back of a chair if you’re sitting. Make note of that contact and take 10 to 20 seconds to allow the support of the floor and the chair—or any other object—to move through you from your feet, through your legs, your pelvis, up the length of your back and neck all the way to the top of your head. And remind yourself that support allows for release. Without support, it’s very difficult to let go.
I invite you to find the floor. Take time to be aware of the support you’ve got. And allow that support to flow through you so that some release—even a little bit—has a chance to happen.
I think your body will thank you for it.
P.S. Are you a subscriber to my e-newsletter? If you like this blog and are craving more information on moving better and feeling better, there’s no better time to sign up. You’ll get a free booklet with tips for exploring your posture (that has nothing to do with standing up straight and pulling your shoulders back. I promise!). And once a month I’ll pop into your inbox with new ideas for you to experiment with. In addition, you’ll be the first to know about any upcoming events, local or online.