Relieve Your Stress With These Simple Stretches
By Dr. Molly Casey
Stress is high in many different ways right now. It’s not just that folks are working from home. Some folks aren’t working at all. Some folks are working while at home in the middle of the whole world going through a wildly chaotic experience and no ability to relate it to other times in history. On top of that, kids are home from school, learning to do online classes and, for some, having a lot more free time. Parents learning to teach. Teachers learning online programs, fast. Everyone learning the new, if temporary, norm.
Expenses at home, whether it be the food bill or the electricity bill, have risen. Entire routines are either non-existent or significantly different. Being in the same quarters with the same people for long periods has pushed our limits. And that is all before we even get around to fearing the actual virus COVID-19. Needless to say, stress is high. Your body is affected by stress in more ways than one.
Today we’ll consider tangible stretching or manual techniques you can do at home to try to lighten the structural load.
The structure of the body begins to close down and weaken when it’s under stress for long periods. Some areas become too tight, others become flimsy. You can do all of the stretches or manual techniques at home, daily.
These five components are targeted to help reverse the paths that stress commonly weighs on the body. All of these are on the floor because in high-stress times, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors often swirl about, and simply the act of getting on the floor or bed to perform simple techniques can be enough to decrease anxiety and serve to ease some structural stress on the body.
Foam Roller Open Up
Get a foam roller, ideally 24-36 inches long. You can get them, often online, for less than $10. A long piece of PVC pipe will also work, though it must be thick in its width. In this technique you are going to place the roller or tube lengthwise beneath your spine. You will literally lie on top of it and it will run the length of your spine. You can place a towel over the roller or PVC to cushion it a little bit more if necessary. You are going to simply spread your arms out by your side and “hang” over the roller. Open your legs as well so you can easily balance along the length of the roller. Initially try for 2-3 minutes if you can do so comfortably. Increase your time each day. You’ll work your time up to 5-8 minutes daily. The body collapses in stress and in chronic conditions. People at computers for long hours -- and especially when not at proper work stations, especially while at home -- roll forward in their posture. When you reverse this rolled forward posture through opening up on the foam roller and simply relaxing, it allows the body and all its organs to release just a little bit and breathe.
Get in a seated position and put your legs in a V shape. The hamstrings are what you call the back of your thigh. These become excessively tight and weak with lots of sitting. So let’s stretch them. One full round of stretching is to the right leg, the middle, and then to the left leg.
Make sure while seated you’re sitting nice and tall, shoulders are down and back. The motion of the stretch comes from flexing your hips forward, not simply rounding your back. Go first to the right leg. Focus on keeping your upper back straight, and lean forward from the hips over the right thigh. Get your upper body as close to the legs as possible without cheating by simply rounding your shoulders over. It is fine to gently pull yourself a bit from your calf. Breathe deeply into your stomach and hold for 45-60 seconds. Go down to the middle, attempting to touch your chest to the floor without rounding that upper back. Hold for the same amount of time. Then go to the left leg and do exactly as you did with the right. You can pause for 5-10 seconds as you come up. For some of you this will be a breeze, for others you’ll see just how inflexible you are. Either way, it’s OK and simply practice. Two to three rounds of this consistently can make a big difference in your flexibility.
Lie down on your back, legs shoulder-width apart. Your quadriceps are what you call the front of your thigh. While on your back, gently bend your right knee bringing your ankle as close to your butt as possible. Let it naturally lie there with no stress. Take a light hold of your ankle and gently stretch or pull the ankle closer to your butt. This will pull the front of your thigh outward and you should feel a stretch in the front of your thigh. Be sure to not pull too aggressively, so start easy. Hold for 45-60 seconds and release. Let go of the ankle and repeat on the left side. Repeat two to three times each side.
Back of the Head
The tension at the base or back of the head can rise quite quickly with stress. Manual techniques done at home can often help relieve a great deal of that tension. Grab a firm tennis ball or lacrosse ball. Lie on your back and, minimally, have the ball on a hard surface; place the ball under the base of your skull and you’ll likely immediately feel the pressure. Hold it in areas where you feel the pressure for 20-30 seconds or whatever time frame you’re comfortable with holding in one area, but no longer than 60 seconds at one time. You can roll the ball down the neck as far as this practice feels comfortable. This can help relieve muscle tension and you can practice this throughout your day for 3-5 minutes each time. Be careful and cautious in your approach at first, meaning simply work up in time and frequency knowing you’re comfortable all along the way.
Stress has an effect on your body. High stress and chronic levels of stress take a larger toll. Simple techniques can offer a bit of relief to the structure and change the way you feel, as well as get blood and energy moving. Movement is life. You can do all of these in the comfort of your own home and feel better too.
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