I work out a lot. A lot! After losing one hundred pounds, fitness has just become a regular part of my life. Yet, despite all of my workouts, I can remember asking a personal trainer why the hardest muscle on my body seemed to be the one sitting right on top of my shoulders, at the base of my neck, instead of my glutes? I’ll never forget her response. She laughed and said, “Well, if you walked around all day long, clenching your butt and focusing all your stress there, you would have buns of steel!”
The truth of the matter is, all of my stress seems to concentrate in my neck and shoulders and, when I catch myself tensing my shoulders upwards, I can hear my trainer shouting, “Shoulders down! They’re not earrings!”
When stress manages to creep into our lives, the way we manage that stress is important to our overall sense of health and well-being. When I’m feeling overwhelmed and anxious, besides having the world’s tightest shoulder muscles, I describe it as feeling like an elephant standing on my chest, making it impossible for me to ever really fully exhale.
Too much tension can prevent you from sleeping well, it can lead to an assortment of serious health problems, from heart disease to high blood pressure, and it can also have a negative impact on your relationships, career, and the ability to enjoy your life.
I’ve realized that it’s difficult to compartmentalize my issues when I’m facing something that is causing me great stress, but here are some of the things I’ve found that help me to literally breathe a little bit easier:
- Don’t skip the workouts! I tell myself that working out will literally give me the strength to handle whatever life throws in my path. A great workout can boost your mood and be a great tension reliever. As a Type-A personality, I never thought I had the temperament for yoga, but eventually realized that I’m the exact type of person who needs it. I fit in a ten-minute yoga workout, led by Holly Perkins, to start my morning and it really helps to center my attention and prepare me to face the rest of the day.
- Laugh! Sometimes, when you get so caught up in all the “I have to’s,” you forget to work in the “I want to’s.” Spend some time with people who you enjoy being around. You might think that you will never find the time but, if can you can spend quality time with good friends and lots of laughs, it will help to diffuse the insanity that is swirling around you. You could even take in a comedy show to add some levity to your life!
- Do your best to limit your exposure to negative people. I have a very upbeat friend who says, “I surround myself with fountains, not drains!” It’s great advice when you’re trying to keep your stress levels down.
- Experiment to see what self-care really works for you. I’ve found that working in a massage, or even a hot pack on my shoulders, can really ease the tension. Even just going for a walk and getting some fresh air for a few minutes can help to defuse what could be a ticking time bomb of emotions. I’ve even tried hypnosis and left the session feeling lighter in spirit than I had in months!
There are still days when I find my shoulders tensing up and creeping up on me. I still haven’t found a magic way to transform all my stress into buns of steel but, with a few positive steps to manage that stress, you may be able to get that elephant to step off of your chest and take a deep breath.