Physical Tools to Reduce Stress & Muscle Tension

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Chronic anxiety activates the sympathetic nervous system. If it happens all the time, it can result in sympathetic dominance.  Chronic stress uses a lot of bioiogical energy and it may burn up lot of magnesium and ATP, which can cause the muscle fibers to shorten and become chronically tight or locked-up in ‘muscle spasms.’

Even after the original stressor, anxious thought or emotional flashback has subsided… the tight muscles can make you feel physically uncomfortable for days later — unless you take action to restore your muscles back to their original, unstressed state.

Here are my favorites tools to help reduce muscle tension and promote physical relaxation:

Yoga Mat

Yoga is a type of exercise that involves breath control, physical movements and meditation [R].

I consider yoga to be the king of stress-reducing activities — at least of the ones which can be done solo & for free.

A study of 300 new yoga practitioners found that yoga reduced anxiety [R]. A 2018  study of 722 soldiers found that yoga practice improved sleep and reduces anxiety states [R].

You can get a yoga mat at a discount department store for as little as $12. The best quality yoga mats I have used are Manduka PRO mats: they have superior cushioning, durability and grip.

There are plenty of free yoga instruction videos online. But I highly recommend the DVD “Vinyasa Flow Yoga – Uniting Movement and Breath – Session One” by Seane Corn. Learning the 60 minute yoga routine on this disc totally transformed mood & healed my muscles when I was at my lowest point of severe anxiety.

Lacrosse Ball

A lacrosse ball is a semi-hard rubber ball that you can use to remove muscle knots & spasms in your shoulders, neck and back. It can be used to give yourself an extremely firm ‘trigger point massage‘ that is much stronger than anyone’s fingers or thumbs could ever dig in to you.

They cost about $5 at a sporting goods store.

To use a lacrosse ball, lie on your back on the floor and place the ball just above your shoulder.  Roll your body backwards, trapping the ball underneath in your trapezius muscles between your neck and shoulder. You will feel intense pressure and even some pain if you’re doing it right. Lie on the ball in one spot and don’t move for a few minutes until the tension or spasm has fully released. Then gently roll to the next area of tension and repeat.For safety, don’t roll the ball directly on your spine (or near it) just use it on the sides of your back and shoulders.

Theracane

A Theracane is a powerful self-massage tool hat is especially good at working out muscle knots and spams in your back or shoulders, but it can be effectively applied to give trigger point massage to any area of the body.

Use the curvature of the tool as a level to dig the multiple knob-like pressure points deep into and under the muscles, forcing the tension to release.  The pressure breaks up adhesion in muscle fibers and tendons.

It can increase oxygenated blood flow to muscles and it feels so good.

Accupressure Mat

Accupressure mats are like a plastic “bed of nails” that you can lie or stand on.

When you first lie on them, it really hurts and prickles, creating a firey and rather uncomfortable sensation. You can dampen the sensation by wearing a shirt. After a few minutes of discomfort you will find that the prickling sensations become numb and you find your muscles and mind both become more relaxed.

Acupressure mats are good for sleep onset insomnia. Lying on one for 15 or 20 minutes before bed has reduced the time it took me to fall asleep.

Infared Jade Heat Mat

A Infared jade heat map is a high-tech heating pad. A traditional heating pad just warms the skin and passes heat from the wire elements to the surface of your skin. A Infared heating pad uses Infared waves transmitted through jade stones to send heat up to 2″ – 3″ into the muscles and body – heating you from the inside out, kind of like a mild microwave.

Lying on these pads feels very warm and relaxing, similar to tanning on warm beach sand or lying on the hood of a car on a hot day.  It also has an calming, parasympathetic nervous system-activating effect. I find it’s mentally calming & physically soothing… and it relieves back or injury pain when applied to the area.

If used on high setting or for extended periods it can actually make you sweat and have a noticable detoxification reaction, like a sauna. Be careful not to overdo it.

A very small study in Japan recently suggested that infared treatments may decrease anxiety in patients with chronic fatigue [R].

A wide variety of infrared heat mats are available, and they are not cheap: ranging in cost from $50 to $5000. I wouldn’t recommend the cheapest ones for health & safety because it’s an electrical device you lie on.

Weighted Blanket

A weighted blanket is a thick comforter-like blanket that has been filled with heavy glass or plastic beads. They weigh between 10 and 30 lbs. Weight blankets create a cozy, luxurious physical sensation of being hugged or held. This can quickly calm anxiety or panic & create a sensation of peace and comfort.

Massage Chair / Hydromassage Bed

Massage chairs are electronic devices that give a fairly decent theraputic massage using mechanical rollers. Hydomassage beds are plastic beds that shoot powerful jets of warm water up and down your back as you lie on them. These devices are expensive and cost thousands of dollars for a quality machine that delivers an effective massage. If you don’t have the space or the funds to buy one, certain gyms and health spas provide access to them as part of their membership. In the US, Planet Fitness is a nationwide gym franchise that offers unlimited, 24-hour-a-day use of fitness equipment plus massage beds and chair for $20 per month. I find that 10 minutes on the bed and then 10 minutes in the massage chairs can really take the edge off a stressful day and help downshift my nervous system into a more relaxed mode.

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