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How to Release Stored Stress in the Body

"Your Body is your Subconscious Mind" — Candace Pert, neuroscientist

For a long time our emotional health was treated as something completely separate from our physical health, but now after many years of anecdotal evidence researchers are beginning to validate the intimate connection between the two. Recognizing this is important because it gives us deep insight into our healing potential.

Below is a list of places in the body where stress commonly gets stored along with possible emotional connections to these areas. Awareness of our mind body connection is very powerful and can help us create daily habits to feel really good mentally and physically!

Jaw Pain

Jaw pain is a very common issue among adults today. Contributing factors include TMJ, grinding when sleeping, clenching while stressed, trauma to the mouth area from dental work or an accident, arthritis, and general overuse from talking and chewing. This results in uncomfortable symptoms such as chronic jaw tension, headache, neck pain and even chipped teeth. There is also a connection between jaw pain and pelvic floor dysfunction. The emotional connection to jaw pain is anger and unprocessed emotions.

Mind & Body Exercises

  • Relax: Rest your tongue gently on the roof of your mouth behind your upper front teeth. Allow your teeth to come apart while relaxing your jaw muscles.

  • Tongue Up: With your tongue touching the roof of your mouth, slowly open and close your mouth.

  • Chin Tucks: With your shoulders back and chest up, pull your chin straight back, creating a “double chin.” Hold for three seconds and release. Repeat 10 times.

  • Self Massage: Gently rub the area above the cheekbone (temporalis), below the cheekbone (masseter) and below the chin. Also, placing two tennis balls in a sock behind the occipital muscles in the neck and lying on them for approx. 10 mins is a great way to relieve headaches and increased tension.

  • Emotional Release: Try journaling free form for 5-10 min. Don't overthink this process or judge what you write. The goal is to express how you are feeling in that particular moment. Don't worry if it's not positive, just be honest with yourself and let it out.

Shoulder Tension

Stress that manifests in your shoulders can cause a number of discomforts such as a stiff neck, an achy or tense feeling that lingers all day or a tingling and tightening sensation in your neck or shoulders. Sitting for extended periods, forward head posture (ie scrolling!), certain sleeping positions, chronic stress and even carrying your purse exclusively on one shoulder are all common reasons your shoulders could be tight. The emotional connection for the shoulders is feeling like life is overwhelming and being the one to carry the burden of responsibilities all by yourself.

Mind & Body Exercises

  • Shoulder Rolls: While standing, roll your shoulders back in a continuous rolling motion for about 20 seconds, then reverse and roll forward.

  • Doorway Stretch: This one is perfect for increasing range of motion and targets the pectoralis muscle. Stand in an open doorway and bend arms at 90 degree angles with palms forward. Rest your palms on the door frame and slowly step forward with one foot. Feel the stretch in your shoulders and chest. Hold for about 15 seconds, step back and relax.

  • Standing Arm Swings: Begin by standing firmly, feet shoulder width distance apart. Start swinging the arms rhythmically from side to side, feeling the momentum with each swing. Keep your knees soft, bending slightly and allowing them to bounce your body back and forth naturally. Allow the energy to flow all the way to your fingertips. Slow down gradually and come to a stop.

  • Cross Arm Stretch (targets the rotator cuff muscles): While standing, place one arm across your body at chest level. Using your opposite arm to support, pull slightly further across the body. Breathe deeply and slowly as you pull. Hold for about 30 seconds. Repeat other side.

  • Emotional Release: What can you let go of? Take some time to think about areas of your life that you can simplify. Are you on one too many committees? Is there anything in your life you could outsource such as having someone deep clean your house once a month or maybe try a meal delivery service? Sometimes we don't even realize there are options until we allow ourselves to let go of the control we think we need over everything in our lives.

Tight Hips

Tight hips can be so frustrating! It can effect your focus during the day, your sleep at night and it can inhibit other areas of your body as well. Causes range from lifestyle factors such as prolonged periods of time sitting, tightening from healing after an injury, instability, and even dehydration. The emotional connection for this area of the body is frustration and impatience as well as stress from chronic flight or fight response.

Mind & Body Exercises

  • Hip and Back Stretch: Lie flat on your back on the floor or a mat. Bend your knees and using your hands pull both knees into chest. With each exhale, bring knees closer to shoulders. Go as far as comfortable. Once you get them as close as possible, hold for 30 seconds and release.

  • Seated Glute Stretch: Sit in a chair with your knees bent, then place your right foot onto your left thigh. Hinge at the hips to fold your torso over your legs. Hold for 30 seconds and switch to other side.

  • Butterfly Stretch: Sit on the floor with soles of feet together and straighten your back. Lay your hands on the top of your feet. Lean forward from your hips and gently push your elbows against your thighs. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat.

  • Kneeling Hip-Flexor Stretch: Kneel down on one knee and place the other foot flat on the floor in front of you. Bend knee to 90 degrees and keep it in line with your ankle. Place hands on hips and straighten spine. Gently push into hip and engage your core. Hold for 30 seconds and switch legs.

  • Emotional Release: Sit quietly in a chair with feet on the floor. Place hands on your knees, close your eyes. Bring your attention to your breathing, noticing the coolness of each inhale and the warmth of each exhale. Now bring your attention to the feeling in your gut. You might feel butterflies, an anxiousness, a tightness, unease or peaceful--whatever it is, just observe it, feel it and try not to force it away. Sometimes to release built up stress we need to actually feel it in our body before it can release. Now try to bring in a feeling of gratefulness. You could feel grateful -for the air you are able to breathe, the coffee you brewed this morning, the chimes you hear on the porch, a hug from your child. Just sit with that feeling of being so grateful for this life. After a few moments, open your eyes.

Foot & Ankle Stiffness

We have over 30 joints in the foot and ankle! This leaves lots of opportunity for pain, stiffness, or arthritis to set in. Common issues associated with tight feet and ankles are knee pain, Achilles tendonitis, Plantar fasciitis, shin splints and chronic calf tightness. The ankles represent our ability to be flexible in life. The emotional connection to stiff ankles could indicate change is difficult for you.

Mind & Body Exercises

  • Cross Leg Ankle Stretch: Sit comfortably with your leg crossed over your knee. Holding your foot with your hands, bend your toes and ankle downward like you are pointing your toes. You'll feel this stretch on the front of your ankle and foot.

  • Ankle Rolls: While seated on the floor, put a rolled towel or foam roller under your ankle. Moving just your foot and ankle (not your leg), turn ankle slowly in circles,10 clockwise and 10 counterclockwise.

  • Chair Pose: This is a simple but very effective Yoga pose for increasing mobility in the ankle. Start standing with feet hip width apart. Inhale and raise both arms overhead. Exhale and bend both of your knees slightly. Your knees will project slightly over your feet and your torso will lean slightly forward. Hold for about 30 seconds. To come out of the pose, inhale and straighten you knees arms coming up. Exhale, bring arms down.

  • Ball Under Foot: Sit in a chair with feet flat on the floor. Place the bottom of your foot on a golf ball and slowly roll back and forth. If you notice a sensitive area, pause and hold for 15-20 seconds. Do this for about 2 minutes on each foot.

  • Emotional Release: Practicing affirmations can be helpful in reminding us daily of our goals and how we want to feel. To move through change with ease, try adding affirmations such as "I am safe", "I move forward in life with joy and ease" and "I go with the flow."

Shallow Breathing

Have you ever noticed how a baby breathes? They have a natural and nourishing diaphragmatic breath as they pull air deep into their lungs expanding the belly and then contracting with the exhale. By the time we are adults, most of us have lost that natural instinct. The tendency is a shallow breath from the chest, inhaling through the mouth (instead of nose), holding our breath and taking in less air. Contributing factors could be a number of things such as environmental stressors like pollution and noise or being in a chronic state of fight or flight like many of us are now. Shallow breathing can lead to a whole host of problems as we age. It can contribute to a lowered immune system, an increased risk of panic attacks and impaired cognitive function.

The emotional connection to shallow breathing shouldn't come as a surprise. Fear, stress and anxiety most definitely contribute. The lungs represent the cycle of life as we take in the new and let go of the old. We can think of each breath as breathing in the positive aspects of life and exhaling the negative patterns that no longer serve us.

Mind & Body Exercises

  • Belly Breathing: Sit comfortably in a chair or lie on your back. Begin by placing one hand on your chest and the other on your belly, below the ribcage. Allow your belly to totally relax while you begin to breathe in slowly through your nose and feel your belly rise. Now exhale slowly as you feel your hand fall inward. Take note of the hand on your chest. It should remain relatively still.

  • Alternate Nostril Breathing: This one seems a little confusing at first but once you try it a few times you'll get the feel of it. It's also very balancing for the mind! Start by sitting comfortably in an upright position, exhale and then take your right thumb to gently close your right nostril. Inhale through your left nostril and then close your left nostril with your pinky and ring fingers. Release your thumb and then exhale through the right nostril. Inhale through your right nostril and then close. Release your fingers to open up your left nostril and exhale through this side. This is one cycle.

  • Box Breathing: Exhale to the count of 4. Hold lungs empty for a count of 4. Inhale for a count of 4. Hold air in your lungs for a count of 4. Exhale and begin again.

  • 4-7-8 Breathing: First, exhale completely. Then inhale through your nose for a count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 7. Exhale again for 8 seconds. Repeat this cycle 4x.

  • Emotional Release: Try this quick exercise when you notice your mind is distracted with worry or irrational fear. First, exhale all the air out as much as you can. Now without inhaling yet, bring your belly in. Hold for 3 seconds, then allow your body to inhale deeply. Again, stop for 3 seconds at the top of the inhale and hold. Repeat this a few cycles and begin to make it a rhythm. When you are ready, stop and breathe normally. Notice what you feel. You should feel a shift, your mood lightening and lifting.

Consider doing a quick body scan at different times throughout the day. Notice what you feel and start to incorporate one or two of these exercises for a quick stress release. Several short moments like this will add up to big results by the end of the day! An added benefit is an energy boost from getting your blood flowing!

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