I work out a lot. A lot! After losing one hundred pounds, fitness has just become part of my life. Yet, despite all my workouts, I remember questioning a personal trainer once why the hardest muscle on my body seems to be hovering right at the top of my shoulders at the base of my neck and why couldn’t it be my glutes instead? I’ll never forget her response. She laughed and said, “Well, if you walked around all day long, clenching your butt and focusing all your stress there, you would have buns of steel!” The truth of the matter is, I do manage to harness all my stress in my neck and shoulders and when I catch tensing my shoulders upwards, I remember my trainer saying “Shoulders down! They’re not earrings!”
While stress manages to creep into our lives, it’s how we manage stress that is important to our overall sense of health and wellbeing. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, besides having the world’s tightest shoulder muscle, I describe it as feeling like an elephant standing on my chest, making it impossible for me to ever really exhale. Too much tension can prevent you from sleeping well, lead to a whole of health problems from heart disease to high blood pressure and can also have a negative impact on your relationships, career, and ability to enjoy your life.
I’ve realized in my own life that it’s difficult to compartmentalize when I’m facing something that is literally stressing me out, but here are some things I’ve found to help me literally breathe a little easier:
- Don’t skip the workouts! I tell myself that working out will literally give me the strength to handle whatever life throws in my path. A great workout can boost your mood and be a great tension reliever. As a type A personality, I never thought I had the temperament for yoga, but have realized, I’m the exact type of person who needs it. I work in a ten-minute yoga workout by Holly Perkins in the morning to start my day and find it really does help center me and gets me ready to face the rest of the day.
- Laugh! Sometimes when you get so caught up in the “have to’s” you forget to work in the “want to’s.” Spend some time with people you enjoy being around. You’ll never find the time but make the time as quality time with good friends and lots of laughs help diffuse the insanity that can swirl around you. Maybe take in a comedy show to add some levity!
- Do your best to limit your exposure to negative people! I have a very upbeat friend who says, “I surround myself with fountains, not drains!” It’s great advice when you’re trying to keep stress levels down.
- Experiment to see what self-care really works for you! I’ve found working in a massage or even a hot pack on my shoulders can really minimize that awful tense feeling. Even just going for a walk and getting some fresh air for a few minutes can help defuse a ticking time bomb. I’ve even tried hypnosis and left the session feeling lighter in spirit than I have in months!
There are still days I find my shoulders creeping up on me and it’s not always easy to kick the negative Nancy’s and Debbie Downers to the curb, and I certainly still haven’t found a magic way to transfer stress into buns of steel, but with a few positive steps you can get the elephant to step off your chest and take a deep breath!