If you tend to feel overwhelmed from time to time, you’re not alone. Stress is such an important topic that since 1992, experts have devoted every April to raising awareness about the impacts of stress on the mind and body. April is National Stress Awareness Month, and this year, we’re helping you learn some new skills to help cope with stress—particularly how it affects your muscles and joints.
This guide to how to stretch for stress relief explores some of the ways that stretching your body can help alleviate tension. We’ll also provide instructions on how to perform some of the top stretches to target stress in the body and melt away tension.
Benefits of Stretching for Stress Relief
Stress is not just a mental or emotional feeling—it’s physical too. Due to the mind-body connection, our thoughts and emotions also express themselves physically in our bodies.
Stressful thoughts and feelings, such as worrying about finances, uncertainty about a job promotion or awaiting a medical diagnosis, all translate into physical stress. Even day-to-day stresses can accumulate as discomfort in the body.
Stretching is one way to naturally relieve stress. Our bodies naturally hold tension in specific areas, including the neck, chest, back, hips and glutes. Performing stretches that target these tight spots can help routinely relieve physical stress, which in turn, allows you to manage the mental or emotional stress of life.
Using stretch for stress relief has tremendous benefits for stress management and overall health including:
- Boosting circulation
- Increasing range of motion and mobility
- Reducing stiffness and muscle tension
- Promoting relaxation
- Improving posture
Stretching also allows you to synchronize physical and mental stress relief. While holding your stretches, use the time to practice mindfulness meditation or visualization to keep your thoughts focused rather than scattered. By harmonizing your mind and body, you can learn to better manage stress anywhere, anytime.
5 Stretches for Relieving Stress
Stretches can either be active and intense or passive and restorative. To help relieve physical stress, it’s best to perform passive stretches that activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the body’s natural relaxation response.
Here are some tips to help you get the most out of stretching for stress reduction:
- Perform the stretches in a sequence, transitioning slowly into each one after the other
- Begin by taking a few deep breaths, breathing slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth
- Continue a slow and controlled breathing pattern throughout the stretch sequence
- Conclude by sitting quietly with your eyes closed, allowing your breathing to return to normal
Below are the top five ways to stretch for stress relief.
1. Neck Stretch
When we’re stressed, many of us reflexively raise our shoulders, which tenses up our neck muscles and the muscles at the base of the skull. Over time, this can cause ongoing muscle tension, leading to inflammation and even pinched nerves that affect mobility in the upper body.
Neck stretches help to lengthen these muscles, reducing tension and alleviating pain. Try the following neck stretch relief exercise:
- Draw your chin down to your chest
- Rotate your chin toward one armpit and then the other
- Repeat a few times on each side
Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds per side. You can do the above neck stretches either seated or standing.
2. Child’s Pose
Stress can accumulate across our back muscles in both the upper and lower back regions. Child’s pose is a restorative yoga stretch for the whole back, encouraging the spine to elongate. Spine elongating stretches are particularly beneficial for desk workers because they help counteract spinal compression caused by prolonged sitting.
To perform child’s pose, follow these steps:
- Kneel on the floor, either on the carpet, a mat or towel
- Sit back into your heels and open your knees until it feels comfortable
- Walk your hands out in front of you, sending your chest toward the floor
For best results, leave your arms stretched out in front of you, breathing slowly into your belly. Hold the stretch for up to two minutes.
3. Spinal Twists
Like child’s pose, twists also focus on stretching the spine. With spinal twists, you move the lower half of your body in one direction and the upper half in another. Spinal twists encourage flexibility and mobility and can relieve stress in the back.
To perform a seated spinal twist, follow the below steps:
- Sit in a chair or cross-legged on the floor
- Bring your right hand to rest on the outside of your left leg
- Turn your entire torso toward the right and gaze over your right shoulder
- Repeat on the other side
You can also do a spinal twist while lying on your back by dropping your knees to one side and turning your chest to the other. Hold this stretch for up to a minute on either side, easing into it gradually to protect your spine from sudden movements.
4. Chest Opener
Chest openers are a type of stretch that target the pectoral muscles that connect the upper arm and shoulder to the chest. Pec muscles often become tense due to slouching while working at a desk. Chest openers reverse the effects of hunching by lengthening the muscles across the chest and into the arms.
There are many ways to open up the chest, including the following chest stretch sequence:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and steady your balance
- Clasp your hands together behind your back, squeezing your shoulder blades together
- Send your chest forward as you pull your clasped hands down and away from your chest
Chest opening stretches can be performed along with other back and neck stretches, or you can do them while seated at your desk.
5. Pigeon Pose
According to the yoga tradition, emotions like worry and anxiety are often held in the hips and glutes. Additionally, working at a desk or leading a sedentary lifestyle can also lead to hip and glute tension, which can also cause lumbar pain. Stretches that target the hips and glutes can help increase blood flow to these tight regions while relieving pressure from the low back.
To help relieve stress in the hips and glutes, use yoga for relaxation and stretching with the pigeon pose:
- Position yourself on a mat on all fours
- Bring your right knee toward your left wrist, laying your bent leg flat in front of you so that your shin is parallel with the top of your mat and your knee is pointed to the right
- While bringing your right knee to the mat, extend your left leg straight behind you, keeping it flat on the mat, toes pointed to the back of the mat
- Use your arms to either keep your upper body propped up or slowly lower your chest straight down, bending your elbows for support
Hold the pigeon pose on each side for up to three minutes, feeling the stretch through each outer glute muscle. You may also feel a stretch in your hip, but ease off if you feel any pain or pinching in the hip joints.
Top Stress-Relief Tools
Gentle body movements, like stretching, yoga, tai chi and other practices, provide healthy outlets for relieving physical and mental stress. Healthy stress management is all about finding the right personalized tools for targeting tension however it shows up in your body.
Below are some of the best stress relief tools and stretching equipment for helping to relieve and manage physical stress and experience better mental and emotional well-being too.
If you tend to hold a lot of tension in the low back, hips and hamstrings, then try the CoreStretch® by Medi-Dyne. This stretching equipment for the back offers a safe and controlled way to stretch your lower back. The CoreStretch leverages your body’s natural traction, lengthening your spine and creating better mobility through your core.
Learn more about the CoreStretch and the different stretch exercises you can do to help relieve tension.
Fitspine XC5 Inversion Table
Perform your daily maintenance stretches using the Fitspine XC5 Inversion Table by Teeter. Inversion tables are back stretch tools designed to gently stretch the spine, releasing tension and elongating the muscles around the spine. Inverting the body naturally decompresses the spinal discs, improving mobility and providing pain relief.
Using the Teeter MOVE app, you can discover how to best use the inversion table with instructor-led stretching and exercise classes. Find out how the Fitspine Inversion Table can improve your daily well-being.
Certus Massage Chair
Combine the benefits of full-body stretching with massage therapy for stress relief using the Certus Massage Chair by Human Touch®. With 11 different wellness programs, this smart massage chair allows you to customize the perfect bodywork routine for your needs. Whether you’re recovering from a low back injury or you’ve suffered a pulled neck muscle, you can rely on the Certus Massage Chair to provide you with the optimal massage sequence.
Discover all the luxurious self-care benefits of the Certus Massage Chair.
Discover Stress Relief Solutions at Relax The Back
Learning healthy ways to prevent, manage and relieve stress is critical to maximizing personal well-being. With the right tools, you can integrate stress relief into your daily routine, helping to keep muscle tension and pain at bay.
Explore self-massage solutions and fitness and therapy products from Relax The Back. Shop our collections online or visit a store near you. Contact us to speak with a wellness specialist or book a virtual consultation today.