by Maria Koropecky, Homespunspa owner
As you may recall from “Are you a walking coat hanger, (part 1),” I decided to write this post to help my friend, Angelina. She has been having problems with tension in her neck even though she exercises regularly, sits at an ergonomically-designed workstation and has visited a chiropractor. What else can she do to alleviate the tension and the pain?
5 More Ways to Relax Your Neck and Shoulders
1) Pillows: Since how well you sleep directly influences the quality of your life, I think it’s important to know a thing or two about pillows. How many pillows you use, what they’re made of, how soft or hard they are, the position of your body while you’re sleeping and how your head rests on your pillow(s) make a huge difference to your sleep. Muscle tension in the neck during the day may actually be triggered by an uncomfortable sleep from the night before. Your pillow should keep your head and neck aligned with your spine, so make sure your neck is resting at a comfortable angle. You can also place pillows between your knees to take the strain and pressure off your back, if you sleep on your side, or you can place a pillow under your knees, if you sleep on your back.
2) Reiki: I had my first Reiki session in June and I was fascinated by the technique. Reiki is a method that heals the body, mind and spirit using gentle, non-intrusive hand placements along the body, starting from the head. Reiki practitioners simply transfer universal healing energy from their hands to consenting individuals to encourage feelings of relaxation and well-being. Although their hands don’t actually touch your body (as in massage), it feels like they are and you can certainly feel the heat that is being generated — and that’s a really cool sensation. Your stress will evaporate into thin air. If you’d like the name of a talented and intuitive Reiki practitioner, please email me and I’ll forward her contact info to you.
3) Reflexology: With over 7,000 nerves connecting the feet to the rest of the body, it’s a no brainer why we look to the feet when we need to de-stress. Most people love to have their feet massaged, pampered and touched. According to the Reflexology Association of Canada, “Reflexology is a natural healing art, based on the principle that there are reflexes in the feet and hands which correspond to every part of the body.” Reflexology maps the neurological relationships between zones on the soles of the feet to organs in the rest of the body and if you touch a specific area in the foot, it will point to a corresponding organ and that area of the body will feel relief. In Reflexology, if someone touches the “neck” on your big toe than they are also in a sense massaging your traditional neck. Also the area along the outside edge of your foot, below the pinky toe, corresponds to your shoulders.
4) Tense and release every part of your body: Being tense is a very common affliction in our stress-filled culture. Tension is caused by muscles that stiffen up when we feel the need to protect ourselves or defend ourselves from a perceived, potential threat. We’re getting ready to fight or freeze or flee. Holding the muscles over many hours is terribly painful and uncomfortable and doing that will lead to headaches, gastrointestinal disorders and back problems.
To remedy tense muscles, lie on your back in a quiet room and let your legs and arms fall away from your body. Make a mental note of how your body is feeling before you start this exercise so you have a reference point for later. In your mind, you are going to take a tour of your body, tensing and then releasing every part of it along the way. Starting with your feet, curl your toes under and hold the contraction for a few seconds. Meanwhile, hold your breath as well. Then release the contraction and exhale. Breathe. Then go to the arches of your feet. Hold the contraction. Hold your breath. Let go. Breathe again. From your feet, move on to the calves and repeat the steps. Travel to your knees, thighs, hips, buttocks, lower back, middle back, upper back, shoulders, neck, scalp, forehead, eyes, nose, mouth, chin, face, shoulders (again), lungs, waist, tummy, upper arms, elbows, forearms, wrists, hands, and fingers, remembering to consciously tense each of the muscles and joints, holding your breath and letting it all go. Finish by tensing the entire body at once. Hold your breath and than instantly release the tension. Are you feeling more relaxed now?
5) Nutrition: Eating a balanced diet will help your body cope better with stress so aim to eat healthy food 90% of the time. Are you getting enough vitamins, minerals and antioxidants on a daily basis? If not, consider adding supplements to your routine.
- The B vitamins, in particular, have long been used to help people who suffer from stress.
- Put Vitamin C on your shopping list, too.
- In terms of minerals, magnesium and iron are known to help with sleep.
- Antioxidants will act as the “clean up crew” in your body and will reduce the amount of harmful free radicals in your system.
As I’m doing the research on this topic, I’m learning that eating oats regularly, will help keep you calm, prevent depression and will lower cholesterol. Also, pumpkin seeds will help you deal with stress because they contain high levels of zinc, iron, calcium and B vitamins. Other foods that are high in B vitamins include: whole grains, brown rice, lean meat, brewer’s yeast, royal jelly, wheatgerm, bananas, liver, peanuts, black-eyed beans. Adding these foods to your meals will help you manage your stress which will, in turn, minimize your neck and shoulder tension.
I hope these tips will help you in your quest to manage stress.