According to Angela M. Bell, MD, the areas where you’re likely to feel stress or anxiety-related tension are in your neck and shoulders. Over time, this can lead to chronic pain as well as other health issues.
To relax that muscle tension, your neck and shoulders respond well to stretching, yoga, relaxation, and other stress management methods. Here are some stretches and poses you can do daily to help relieve tension and tightness in your neck and shoulders.
The neck stretch is a deep stretch that eases tension in your neck and helps improve your range of motion.
How to do it: Stand tall with your left arm at your side. Place your right hand on your head with your fingers pointing to the left side. Gently pull your head toward the right side until you feel a stretch in the left side of your neck. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and return to center. Repeat on the other side. You can do it 2 to 3 times on each side.
Clasped Neck Stretch
The clasped neck stretch targets your neck and upper-back muscles. It provides a deep stretch to that area of your body.
How to do it: Begin by sitting comfortably in a chair or on the floor, making sure your body is in proper alignment. Clasp your hands and bring both palms to the back of your head. Gently pull your head down bringing your chin towards your chest. Hold for at least 30 seconds, or 5 to 8 deep, diaphragmatic breaths in and out. Then slowly return your head to the initial position and release your hands.
Child’s pose or Balasana is a well-known yoga pose that can help relieve neck and back pain. It’s also a gentle stretch that helps you relax.
How to do it: Get on your hands and knees with your palms flat on the floor, wrists under your shoulders, and knees under your hips. Sit back on your heels, lengthen your spine, and walk your hands in front of you. Fold forward and keep your arms extended in front of you. Hold this position for 60 to 90 seconds. Focus on your breath while you release tension in your neck and shoulders. Return to the starting position and repeat. You can do this 2 to 3 times, or as many as you feel needed.
The Cat-Cow or Chakravakasana is a yoga pose that allows you to stretch your back, torso, and neck, helping to release tension in these areas. It is also a great pose for awakening the spine.
How to do it: Get on your hands and knees with your palms flat on the floor, wrists under your shoulders, and knees under your hips. Inhale and move into Cow Pose. Drop your belly towards the floor and lift your chin and chest. Look up at the ceiling, open your chest and shoulders. Pause for a few seconds. Exhale and move into Cat Pose. Pull your belly toward your spine and round your back toward the ceiling. You should be looking down and then pause for a few seconds. Inhale and come back into Cow Pose and repeat the sequence. You can do it 10 to 12 times.
Thread and Needle
The thread and needle stretch releases the tension in the upper back and between the shoulder blades. It helps release tension in your back, neck, and shoulders. All moves should be smooth and soft.
How to do it: Get on your hands and knees with your palms flat on the floor, wrists under your shoulders, and knees under your hips. Slide your right hand (palm up) on the floor to the left side of your body. Your body will rotate with the movement, and your right shoulder will touch the floor as you look to the left side. Use your left hand to support your weight. Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds and return to the starting position. Repeat on the left side. You can do this 2 to 3 times on each side.
Remember that regular exercise and stretching will keep your shoulders and neck muscles loose and will help stop them from becoming tight again. Reducing stress levels and practicing correct posture will also help alleviate and prevent tension in the long term.