That headache might not be the result of last night's glass of wine, and that stiff neck might not be down to a bad night's sleep. These could both be signs that you might need some serious stress management.
The good news is that you can ease these aches and pains with simple relaxation techniques for stress in the form of different body exercises.
Why does stress cause physical symptoms?
When we’re stressed our body releases certain hormones that make our muscles tense up. The blood vessels contract, allowing less blood and oxygen to get to the tissues, and our heart rate and blood pressure rises.
This is why when we’re stressed we get stiff, achy muscles, feel tired and generally under the weather – our vital organs are under strain.
If we suffer from stress over a long period of time and don’t take time out to relax we can end up with long-term problems, such as chronic back pain and constant headaches.
What are the physical symptoms of stress?
- Skin conditions such as rosacea, eczema and psoriasis can be signs of stress.
- Digestive problems such as IBS are also triggered by stress, and aches and pains such as backache, sore, stiff shoulders and headaches are also common signs of stress.
Viv Alves is a yoga teacher and wellbeing expert. She suggests the following exercises for reducing stress and tension in the body.
Relaxation exercises for stress: Exercises for headaches
- Curl up in a forward bend on the floor, tuck your legs underneath you and rest your forehead on the floor. This might sound weird but this is great for easing tension in the head and neck. In yoga this is called the child pose.
- If you don’t want to curl up on the floor you could sit forward and rest your head on your knees. Or stand up and bend over and let your arms hang down to the floor, as if you’re trying to touch your toes. Relax and let go of the tension in your head and neck. Come up slowly after a minute or so.
- Sit quietly with your eyes closed. Turn off any bright lights and breathe slowly. Use your fingers to gently massage your head. Start at the temples and move all the way around the head.
- Cradle the back of your neck with your hands and draw your chin to your chest. Breathe slowly and deeply.
Rather than standing up, shoulder rolls are best done sitting down somewhere quiet – that way you tend to stop and think about relaxing.
Relaxation exercises for stress: Exercises for shoulder pain
- Roll your shoulders back, slowly, five times.
- Then roll them forwards five times.
- Pull them up to your ears and let them drop down sharply. Do this as many times as you need to.
- Again, sitting or kneeling, clasp your hands behind your back and push your shoulders back.
- Slowly draw your arms out as if your clasped hands are reaching for something behind you.
- Breathe deeply and slowly and push your shoulders out and down, opening up your chest.
Relaxation exercises for stress: Exercises for back ache
The yoga cat pose is great for back pain and for strengthening the back.
- Kneel on all fours and breathe slowly and deeply.
- Pull your tummy in, breathe in, lift your head up and dip your back so your back is concave.
- As you breathe out, lower your head and tuck your chin into your chest and arch your back, so it’s curled and rounded.
- Do this 10 times and when you’ve finished go into a child pose to fully relax.
- Lie on the floor with your knees pulled into your chest.
- Rock from side to side and back and forth – you might feel silly but this is a really relaxing exercise that massages a sore back.
Relaxation exercises for stress: Exercises for a sore neck
Try some neck rolls for a sore neck.
- Start facing forward, dip your chin to your chest and slowly roll your head round to the right shoulder, tip your head back, and then follow through to the left shoulder and back to facing straight ahead again.
- Do this a couple of times and alternate the direction that your roll your head, i.e. from right to left and left to right.
There’s also a yoga movement called the sandbag that’s great for relaxing a stiff neck.
- Facing forward, tip your head to your right shoulder.
- Put your right hand around your head and place on your left ear and very gently pull down, so you’re stretching your neck. Make sure your back is straight and your shoulders are back.
- Return to the starting position and do the same with the left side.