Stress manifests itself in many different forms. For some of us, an overpacked schedule can lead to migraines. For others, stress and anxiety can cause an upset stomach. For me, it leads to pain, tightness, and tension in my neck and shoulders—and according to acupuncturist Juhi Singh MA, LAc, I'm definitely not alone.
We asked Singh, the CEO and founder of the Juhi Center, a NYC-based wellness center, for some easy tips and tricks to ease the tension in your neck and relax your muscles. From quick fixes you can do at your desk to more extensive treatments, read on for seven ways to relieve stress, just in time for National Stress Awareness Day.
1. Keep a bottle of essential oils at your desk.
Singh swears by essential oils like lavender for many reasons. When you inhale the scent of an essential oil like lavender, it causes the brain to slow down, leading to a more relaxed state. For added benefits, try putting a few drops on your wrist and rubbing from side to side. There are three pressure points located at the wrist—one underneath the thumb, another beneath the middle finger, and the last underneath the pinky—so massaging the area with essential oils will also give you pressure point relief.
2. Check your posture.
Simply sitting upright at your desk can help lower your stress levels. To relax the muscles in the neck, alleviate stress, improve your breathing, and bring awareness to your body, take a few seconds to try this simple stretch:
Pull your shoulders back and down. Lift your chin up and bring your right ear down to your right shoulder. Come back to center and then bring your left ear down to your left shoulder. Come to center, stick your chin out all the way, and drop your head down, bringing your chin to your chest. Allow your head to hang so you feel a stretch in the back of the neck. Then lift your head back up and slowly start looking toward the ceiling, continuing to elongate your neck. Come to center, and feel your muscles already beginning to relax.
3. Massage your back with a golf ball.
Keep a golf ball at your desk as your secret weapon. When your neck and shoulders are feeling extra tight, take a few minutes and go to the bathroom or a private space. Place the golf ball against a wall and then push your back into the ball. Roll the ball around and gently massage your back against the ball. It’s an immediate way to relieve tension in your neck and shoulders, and it also acts as sort of acupressure therapy.
4. Rub on some Tiger Balm.
“Tiger Balm is like Indian hot sauce for me. I put it on everything,” Singh said. For peak effect, she recommends taking a hot bath and then applying Tiger Balm ($5; amazon.com) because it will better permeate the skin and relax the muscles. Apply it to your neck, the base of the head, the chest, and any other part of your body that’s sore. Tiger Balm eases tension, facilitates breathing, and improves the quality of sleep because of its relaxing effect.
5. Boost your diet.
Certain additions to your diet can help relieve stress and improve your immune system. Consider taking a soup recipe and supercharging it with ingredients like fresh-grated ginger, turmeric, fresh-squeezed lemon, and garlic.
6. Try acupuncture.
Acupuncture not only treats stress and illness but prophylactically senses imbalances in your system that could lead you to get sick. When you insert the needle, you’re causing a micro trauma, tricking the brain into thinking that there’s more injury than actually exists. It sends a signal to the brain to say that there’s injury in the area, so the body sends over its own self-healing defenses like endorphins and enkephalins. Acupuncture increases blood flow to specific areas, decreases inflammation, and helps to reduce stress. It's used not only to relieve stress but to protect the body against stress ahead.
7. Get a massage—or give yourself one.
Massage improves blood flow and reduces inflammation, another way of reducing stress in your body. Book a professional massage, or even give yourself one at home by focusing on key pressure points. One area to concentrate on is the Yin Tang point between your eyebrows. Place your right thumb firmly between your brows and rest the remaining four fingers on your head with your palm facing you. Press into the point for 30 seconds while taking deep breaths to calm the nervous system and simultaneously release anxiety and tension.