Your Body Stores Stress In These 2 Areas — Here's What You Can Do About It
We all know that stress starts in the mind and can affect the body. When we get stressed, we tend to tense up, causing our muscles to contract and develop tension. There are two areas of the body where stress has a more serious impact than others: your traps and shoulders, and your hips. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to combat and release the tension. Here's what I recommend.
How to release stress in your traps and shoulders.
Our traps and shoulders can carry some serious stress—stress that's most commonly caused by thoughts of the future (e.g., stressing about something that hasn't happened or worrying about something that will happen). Usually, it's something that's lingering or building over time. This stress can result in headaches, poor posture, and fatigue. Also, from a physical aspect, the way we look at our phones, carry bags, or even sleep can cause tension in our traps and shoulders, which puts stress on your body overall.
Ways to combat stress in your traps and shoulders:
Massage is great for relieving stress, decreasing lactic acid buildup (soreness), and decrease pain.
Doing slow side-to-side neck stretches and slow head circles can help. Also remember to pull your shoulders back during these. You want to have good posture while doing these.
Ice and heat
Alternating ice pack and a heating pad can help relax the muscles around the neck and shoulders.
How to release stress in your hips.
Finally, the hips can carry stress. It's one of the areas where most people don't realize stress resides. The hips do so much work, both directly and indirectly. By standing and sitting for too long, the hips can become tight. Mental stress can also manifest in the hips. Even more than that, tight hips can lead to back pain and minimize performance.
Ways to combat stress in the hips:
Taking the time to stretch every day—even 10 or 15 minutes—can make a huge difference in the amount of tension your muscles carry. To release tension in your hips, pay special attention to your hip flexors, quads, and hamstrings.
Using a foam roller
Foam rollers are one of the most undervalued pieces of fitness/recovery equipment out there. Using a roller on your hip flexors and glutes can help release any built-up tension living in your hips.
Lastly, lying on your back with your legs up against the wall is an effective tension-releasing strategy. This allows gravity to pull the blood back to the hip and causes some relief in the legs and hips.
Aside from these techniques, there are things we can do in general to lower our stress and, by proxy, our muscle tension. Meditation, for example, can help relax your mind and body to release mental worry. Also, eating a healthy diet can help decrease inflammation (which goes hand-in-hand with stress) and hydrate your muscles. Lastly, integrating foam rolling and stretching into your daily routine can help relieve muscle tension, which can allow you to move well.
Jason Williams, NASM-CPT is a personal trainer, meditation teacher and well-being coach. He was a former collegiate track athlete at Lynchburg College, where he received a B.S. in sports medicine. He teaches boot-camp style and spin classes, but his main interests are pilates and barre. He is the director of Pilates Barre Training in Baltimore, MD and the author of "The Adventures of Frankie Fitness," a children's book that inspires kids to be both physically and mentally healthy.