Stretch and Massage Away Stress
Timeless Fitness Tips...
When you are low on energy, your muscles tend to be tight and contracted. It makes you feel like you are sleep deprived. Sitting all day compounds the problem. Stretching can help ease and prevent this muscle tightness and improve overall flexibility.
As you hold a stretch and then release it, you can actually feel the targeted muscles begin to relax. Do four or five different stretches several times throughout the day.
An effective upper-body tension tamer:
- Sit tall and raise arms above you. Interlace fingers; turn palms upward.
- Push arms slightly back as you straighten them. Hold for ten to twenty seconds; release.
The results of a study found those who did a toning/stretching routine at least three times a week, had the same improvement in self esteem and reduced stress you hear about as benefits of exercise. To feel great without a vigorous work out, sign up for a stretching and/or toning class, or purchase or rent a video.
- Stretch big: Stretch the large muscle groups of the upper and lower body. Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Tone, too. Strength training for 20 to 30 minutes, two or three times a week is recommended in addition to the stretching. Do 8 to 12 repetitions for each major muscle group.
- Keep it up! People who are active more frequently have an increased "Strength Esteem" as well as a "physical condition self-esteem". On the flip side, those that stopped moving had a significant drop in both aspects of self-esteem.
Fitness Stretching Hint
Try a beginner's Hatha yoga tape - yoga is an excellent way to deeply stretch all the muscles in your body on a regular basis. Yet, it is gentle and non-impact so it will not harm your joints or cause other exercise related injuries.
Don't Just Stand -- Stretch!
It's easy to fit stretching into your day; try these 3 tips. Practice some stretches while waiting in shopping lines. Simple neck and shoulder rolls are a great way to release stress and relax tight muscles. And make use of the stairs -- a great tool for stretching out your calves. How important is it to stretch? The American College of Sports Medicine has added stretching to its fitness recommendations. Stretching will keep your muscles supple and flexible, in addition to helping prevent injury. Besides that, it feels good! Try it!
Yoga and/or Tai Chi
Practicing yoga can improve balance, tone muscles and release stress. Hatha Yoga provides a slow-paced intro to basic poses. For a challenge, Ashtanga yoga offers a fast-paced flow with constant movement. Bikram, or "hot" yoga, covers 26 positions in an over-heated room to warm and stretch muscles, ligaments and tendons.
By mid to late evening, your body temperature is inching toward its uppermost reaches, warming your muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints. You will get the most out of stretching at this time of day when your tissues are more pliable and less injury-prone. Plus, stretching helps relieve built-up tensions in your muscles that developed throughout the day, will feel great and may even give you a better night's rest. Just a little goes a long way. Learn a few simple stretching exercises!
Ten Commandments of Stretching
- Follow a program specific to your activities and needs.
- Stretch regularly, at least three times a week.
- Warm up before stretching with light aerobic moves.
- Stretch only to the point of tension in the belly of the muscle, not pain in the joint.
- Hold each stretch for 15 to 60 seconds.
- Do each stretch two to four times.
- Stay relaxed.
- Breath throughout the stretch.
- Progress in a slow, controlled manner.
- Do not bounce.
Massage for Stress
Another great stress reliever is massage. Massage reduces muscle tension, stress, and improves mental energy.
A study done for five weeks on adults with stressful jobs and home lives gave upper body massages to one group, twice a week, 15 minutes each session. Another group just sat quietly for two 15 minute sessions each week. Each group was given anxiety, depression and job stress evaluations prior to each 15 minutes session. After five weeks, both groups were less depressed, but only the massaged group scored lower in job stress and anxiety. The group also performed better on a math exam when re-tested.
The International Massage Association, who conducted the tests, states that massage relaxes muscles, which increases circulation and sends more oxygen to the brain, enhancing mental alertness.
Warning Signs of Stress
We all feel stressed out at times; sometimes it is the result of a given situation that eventually is brought under control, other times it is an on-going problem in which stress can literally become a health hazard.
When over-stressed for too long a period of time, your body will respond in a negative manner. Several things can occur, some have more symptoms than others, some get different symptoms all together. One of the more common is tension headaches (not to be confused with migraine headaches). Tension headaches will start in the neck and shoulder region causing pain to radiate into your head and often the feeling is described as having a vice grip on your head, squeezing tightly. In some, the pain will remain isolated to the neck and upper shoulder area.
Another common ailment from too much stress is stomach problems. Cramping, indigestion, diarrhea or pain that feels as though it is in the lower chest. Pain in the lower chest should never be taken lightly. This can also be a symptom of a heart problem. If you experience this, see your doctor.
More symptoms of stress include heart palpitations, tooth-grinding, trembling, sweating of the hands and underarms, lack of ability to concentrate and feelings of weakness and fatigue.
Stress is harmful. Stress lowers our immune system and causes more discomfort than many physical ailments. There are warning signs to determine if you are over stressed. They are:
- Increased irritability
- Hypersensitivity to perceived slights or injustices
- Withdrawal or cutting self off from family and friends
- Tearfulness or frequent crying
- Problems sleeping
- Physical symptoms as described above
- Lower productivity at work
- More work absences
- Drinking, eating or smoking more
What to do?
Take a break during the day. The human body was not built to give attention to one specific thing for long periods of time. Don't skip your break time at work. At home, take a break every couple hours from household chores. Rehydrate with some tea or other favorite beverage... take a few moments to breath in the fresh warm air, or in cold weather, sit by a toasty warm fire place or wrapped in that soft and warm snuggle blanket.
If you begin feeling hungry or tired when stressed, make notes of the times and what you were doing to help you determine triggers that may cause you to do something you will later regret. Talk to someone close to you about things that are bothering you.
Could it be Anger?
If you feel anger is at the crux of your stress, talk to a professional. Anger is a cover emotion for feelings of fear, depression, embarrassment, etc. and can become chronic. Stress can be serious. Don't take it lightly if it's beginning to negatively affect your life. If you have symptoms of stress and it isn't caused by a temporary situation, pay attention to it and seek some help. Stress reduction techniques, anger management, counseling or even a good talk with your clergyman can do wonders and lift your spirits to the betterment of your health and well-being.
Relieve Your Stress Levels
Here are a few tips on what to do and/or how to do something to help you relieve your stress levels.
Get out of town. A vacation or even a week-end get-away is a terrific way to to relax and re-group. This puts some distance between you and your stress triggers and can often help you achieve a new outlook on things. Just be sure when you leave for your get-away you really do get away from your commitments, both physically and mentally. The mind set you bring with you is the key.
Say no to quick fixes of chocolate and caffeine. These things may give you a quick boost, but the effects are short lived. Not long after the original boost, your energy plummets below its pre-snack level. The common response is to eat more chocolate or drink more coffee and going on an energy roller-coaster ride. Occasional indulgences are fine, but if you rely on caffeine and candy regularly, the ups and downs will leave you exhausted. A better pick-me-up would be a protein/fiber/carb-rich snack such as a small handful of nuts or an energy bar.
Take a quick, brisk walk. Just 10 minutes can lift your energy for an hour! Outside is best, if practicle and possible.
Avoid emotional energy drainers. Do the people closest to you drone on endlessly about their problems and ailments? BEWARE! Their habits and negative attitudes may rub off on you. Try to balance them with upbeat, active friends who leave you feeling energized and get you smiling.
Make peace with past hurts. You have to make peace with who or what's hurt you or you'll carry that pain with you every day. Try to use your spirit to overcome adversity rather than be done in by it.
Get ample sleep. Sleep rejuvenates and energizes the body and brain. During sleep, the body repairs and builds tissue as well as neural connections in the brain. Sleep specialists say it takes about eight hours of sleep to provide for sixteen hours of wakefulness.
Find a "Feel-Good" hobby. Boredom saps energy in a major way. It is, literally, psychologically fatiguing. Consider your interests, think of something you always wanted to do as a hobby but never took the time to persue. Any number of things can help. Take up gardening, volunteering, (helping someone is the best energy and mood booster!) finding a sport to take up or even learning a foreign language or that dancing class! Try to make the most of your time. Any of the suggestions can be very rewarding!
Stress and Your Immune System
Daily meditation can strengthen your immune system by gradually lowering the level of stress hormones in your body.
For best results, meditate every day. All it involves is sitting quietly and finding a way to take the thoughts that bother you and set them aside for a few moments. Another technique, guided imagery, is another great way to relax and reduce the impact of stress. Guided imagery teaches people to imagine their bodies slowly relaxing, muscle by muscle, and then to imagine themselves in a soothing, calming scenario.
Don't care for either of those ideas? Try the massage!
A good massage relaxes tight muscles and calms the brain, helping to rid the body of immune suppressing stress hormones. The human body also produces significantly more specialized white blood cells known as natural killer (NK) cells after a massage. NK cells are part of the immune system's search-and-destroy team, ridding the body of viruses and other intruders.
Coconut carrier oil soothes tired and sore muscles. Add a few drops of essential oils for more effect. Or, make your own massage oil! Take 5 or 6 cayenne peppers, 1 cup vegetable oil, 1/4 teaspoon clove essential oil, 1/4 teaspoon eucalyptus essential oil, 1/4 teaspoon mint essential oil. Chop the cayenne peppers and place in a jar.
Cover with vegetable oil making sure the peppers are completely covered. Store in a warm, dark place. Strain after one week. Add the essential oils. Massage on sore muscles, taking care not to get any in your eyes or open wounds as it will sting vehemently. Wash hands well after using.