Stress is the feeling of being under too much pressure and lacking the resources or time to cope with the situation. Stress does not always have to stem from an acutely stressful situation. It can also arise from a traumatic past or a chronic, busy schedule. Stress can lead to an array of physical and mental symptoms, such as low energy, headaches, indigestion, and a weakened immune system.
Interestingly, Lauren Roxburgh, a holistic trainer from the US, found that stress also stores as tension in the certain parts of the body. Since nearly all the cells in our body have protein receptors – called glucocorticoid receptors – that easily absorb the stress hormone cortisol, it is no wonder that stress can show up in so many areas of the body. Lauren discovered that stress manifests as tension in five main areas of the body.
Thinking about a stressful situation makes your jaw and neck tense up. This can lead to neck and headaches, and in extreme cases even causes migraine attacks. A good way to release tension in your jaw is by pretending to yawn. The goal with this exercise is not to breathe out as deeply as possible, but to give your jaw a deep stretch with the motion you are making.
2. Shoulders and back
Many people will recognize the pain and tension you can get in your shoulders and back during stressful periods. In situations of chronic stress, the muscles in this area can shorten considerably due to the consistent tension. This can bring about pain and ‘knots’ in your muscles. Getting regular massages can be a helpful way to release the back pain, as well as weekly hot baths. This video on yoga for upper back pain is also a great way to ease and relax your back muscles.
In stressful situations your body prepares you for acute movement, which is called the fight or flight response. Your heart starts beating faster to be able to quickly send blood to your limbs and your breathing gets shallower and higher. If your body is chronically stressed, your lungs get cramped, making deep breathing increasingly difficult. This can lead to headaches, shortness of breath and anxiety. Breathing exercises, such as the ones described in this article, help to relax the lungs. The most basic breathing exercise, breathing into your lower belly, is a helpful way to start relaxing your lungs during times of stress.
Digestion is not a priority during a fight or flight situation, so your body will put your stomach on lock-down when receiving stress signals. In times of chronic stress, this leads to stomach cramps, pain, and indigestion. Staying hydrated, eating small meals, getting enough fiber and moving regularly can all help with indigestion and stomach pains. Furthermore, these gentle yoga postures can help relieve an upset stomach and keep your digestion flowing.
Tension in the jaw is directly related to tension in the hip*. So when you clench your jaws during stressful times, the tension can, in turn, translate to tension in the hips. This tension often goes unnoticed, until you are struggling in a yoga class, but can also show up as lower back pain. Certain yoga poses, such as the pigeon pose, low lunges, and spinal twists, can help release any hip tension.
Overall, the best way to relieve symptoms of stress remains getting rid of the source of stress. That being said, tension can still be stored in the body once your source of stress has been dealt with. Therefore, recognising these stress containers and releasing the tension with gentle stretches and exercises can help you ease your body back into relaxation.
Fisher., M. et al. 2009. Influence of the temporomandibular joint on range of motion of the hip joint in patients with complex regional pain syndrome. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 32(5), pp. 364-371.