7 tips to relieve stress, soreness, and aches

7 tips to relieve stress, soreness, and aches

Photography: Michael Lupo
Photography: Michael Lupo
7 tips to relieve stress, soreness, and aches

Tense people often feel incredible levels of guilt about taking it easy and being good to themselves. Prolonged tension can cause muscle aches, pain, and fatigue. Back and headache pain are the most common physical symptoms of too much stress and tension.

Some may react by avoiding physical activity for fear of pain or reinjury, however, disuse of the body only increases muscle tension and atrophy. Here are a few things to try to help reduce muscle aches from tension caused by stress.

1. Take Time For You

If you feel guilty when you do something enjoyable for yourself, chances are you will stop doing it. Ultimately, you lose. You may be living your life through other people’s standards and expectations. Take control of your guilt-producing thoughts. Focus on the benefits to you and your family that will occur when you are a more relaxed and energized person.

A simple option is to just take a long lunch break at least 2-3 times a week. Don’t do business during lunch. Read a book. Go to a museum. Sit quietly by a fountain. Eat slowly. Try a new restaurant. Go out with a good friend and agree not to discuss problems or business.

2. Massage Therapy

Massage therapy is one of the best-known alternative remedies for relieving muscle tension. It is believed that massage therapy is about 4,000 years old. Massage addresses the muscle tissue directly and can assist the muscle in releasing its contraction, thus easing muscle tension. The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) reports that massage can help release contracted muscles and lengthen tight ones.

There are many types of massage to choose from. Swedish massage is a gentle touch massage that is good for lighter forms of tension, while deep-tissue massage is effective in addressing deeper muscle tension. Either of these forms of massage will be helpful and a great way to relieve muscle tension, tension headaches, and neck stiffness. Massage therapists in your area can be found online or through a recommendation from a local doctor, chiropractor, or physical therapist.

3. Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation exercises calm your mind, reduce stress hormones in your blood, relax your muscles, and elevate your sense of well-being. Using them regularly can lead to long-term changes in your body to counteract the harmful effects of stress.

Don't get stressed trying to pick the "right" relaxation technique for natural pain relief. Choose whatever relaxes you: music, prayer, gardening, going for a walk, talking with a friend on the phone. Here are some other techniques you might try:

Foursquare breathing.
Breathe deeply, so that your abdomen expands and contracts like a balloon with each breath. Inhale to a count of four, hold for a count of four, exhale to a count of four, then hold to a count of four. Repeat for ten cycles.

Guided imagery.
Breathe slowly and deeply. For example, imagine a tranquil scene in which you feel comfortable, safe, and relaxed. Include colors, sounds, smells, and your feelings. Do five to ten minutes each day.

4. Warm Soaking

People have been using hot baths to relieve muscle tension for a long time. There is evidence to suggest that people in Ancient Egypt, around 2000 B.C., were using hot baths for therapeutic purposes. Many cultures have created healing environments around natural hot springs. Even animals have been known to sit in hot springs.

Hot water allows muscle fibers to loosen and relax, in turn relieving muscle tension. Hot baths can also be soothing to your nervous system. Essential oils can also be added to a warm bath to assist in relaxation and release of muscle tension. Never stay in a warm bath too long 15-20 minutes is the longest you should stay in the water.

5. Incorporate Shoulder Stretching

Tight shoulders can cause pain or stiffness in your neck, back, and upper body, and limit your daily activities. Your shoulders may feel tight and stiff as the result of stress, tension, and overuse.

  • Wide-legged standing forward bend
  • Stand with your feet wider than hip distance with your toes facing forward.
  • Interlace your hands behind your back and open your chest.
  • Engage your leg muscles and keep a slight bend in your knees.
  • Hinge at the hips to fold forward, bringing your arms over your head toward the floor.
  • Allow your head to hang down and tuck your chin in slightly to your chest.
  • Remain in this pose for up to 1 minute.

Thread the needle
  • Come onto your all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips.
  • Lift your right hand and slowly bring it over to the left with your palm facing up.
  • Rest your body on your right shoulder and turn your head to face to the left.
  • Make sure you’re not sinking onto your shoulder.
  • Hold this pose for 30 seconds.
  • Slowly release and come back to the original position.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.

Reverse prayer pose
  • You can do this pose while seated, standing, or in tree pose.
  • Bring your hands behind your back with the backs of your hands facing each other and your fingers facing down.
  • From here flip your hands in the other direction so your fingers are facing up.
  • Turn your palms to face each other.
  • Press your palms together, draw your elbows slightly back, and open your chest.
  • Keep your spine straight.
  • Hold this pose for 30 seconds.

6. Regular Neck Stretches

There are two levator scapulae muscles—one on each side of the neck—that attach to the top four transverse processes and go down to the shoulder. This muscle can become tight and may be tender where it attaches to the shoulder blade. Stretching this muscle can play a role in reducing neck pain.

  • Lengthen the muscle by raising the elbow above the shoulder at the side to stretch.
  • In this position, first rest the elbow against a door jamb. This action rotates the outside of the shoulder blade up and the inside of it down, which lengthens the levator scapulae muscle.
  • Next, turn the head away from the side that is stretching and bring the chin down, stretching the back of the neck.
  • Hold this for about 30 seconds to a minute.

Common Neck Stretch to Avoid

Neck circles, which involve the slow rotation of the head being tilted and rolled in a full circle, have been performed by most people in gym class or while participating in a sport or dance class. However, research shows that the combination of extending the head backward and rotating it puts undue stress on the cervical spine. Compared to other neck movements, neck circles could also cause more compression of the arteries that take blood to the brain.

7. Practice Yoga

Yoga is perhaps the oldest form of alternative muscle tension management. Some people claim the practice of yoga to be over 5,000 years old. Yoga uses techniques to lengthen, stretch and relax muscles while simultaneously working with your breath.

There are many forms of yoga available, and likely one particular style will feel best to you. Some styles of yoga are Ashtanga, Bikram, and Iyengar. If you're just starting out, any beginner's class or beginner's yoga online streaming services will help you see if yoga can assist you in relieving your muscle tension. Starting slowly is always smart.