The next time you’re stressed out, stop and notice what’s happening in your back and neck. It may feel something like this:
- The muscles in your shoulders seize up, causing them to rise toward your ears.
- The muscles stretching down into your low back tense up.
- Your neck muscles are tight and painful, which can also lead to headaches.
- Your jaw is set, causing pain, perhaps leading you to grind your teeth.
For most of us, stress comes in what seems like relentless waves. As we experience stressful situations our bodies tend to stiffen, along with our muscles.We become so accustomed to our muscles seizing and relaxing — then seizing and relaxing again — all day long that the process is almost unconscious.
WHAT CAUSES YOUR MUSCLES TO GET SO STRESSED OUT?
When you flinch in response to stress, you activate a complex internal process involving several stress hormones — part of a primitive hormonal system in the brain called “fight or flight.”
Thousands of years ago that system would kick in when a saber-toothed tiger was nearby and on the prowl. “Fight or flight” enabled escape. Today’s stress comes in the form of traffic jams, money problems and work stress but the body’s reaction is the same:
- Muscle tension
- Increased heart rate
- Hyper vigilance / concentration
- Increased blood pressure
Here’s the problem: Muscles have memories. Chronically stressed out muscles may eventually stay tensed. Stress and tension then starve those muscles of blood flow — which means less oxygen is delivered to help mend them.
SO HOW DO YOU REVERSE THE STRESS RESPONSE?
A well-known Harvard researcher, Dr. Herbert Benson, has done a number of studies about what he calls the “Relaxation Response.” In a nutshell, the Relaxation Response is a type of meditation. Meditation not only relaxes the muscles in your back and reduces pain, studies suggest it improves overall health.
Here are the Relaxation Response basics according to Dr. Benson’s website:
- Sit quietly in a comfortable position.
- Close your eyes.
- Deeply relax all your muscles, beginning at your feet and progressing up to your face. Keep them relaxed.
- Breathe through your nose. Become aware of your breathing.
As you breathe out, say the word, “one,”* silently to yourself.
For example: Breathe in…out, “one,” — in…out, “one”, etc. Breathe easily and naturally.
- Continue for 10 to 20 minutes.
You may open your eyes to check the time, but do not use an alarm.
When you finish, sit quietly for several minutes, at first with your eyes closed and later with your eyes opened.
Do not stand up for a few minutes.
- Do not worry about whether you are successful in achieving a deep level of relaxation.
Maintain a passive attitude and permit relaxation to occur at its own pace.
When distracting thoughts occur, try to ignore them by not dwelling upon them and return to repeating “one.”
With practice, the response should come with little effort.
Practice the technique once or twice daily.
If your back problems persist, or seem serious, reach out online or give us a call and we’ll be happy to help.