When we get stressed, we not only feel this in our minds, by making our minds become a bit like scrambled eggs; as we have looked at already in other blogs, our bodies get anxious in all sorts of different ways. Understanding this is key to helping not continue to live this way with all those negative impacts that we feel when we are stressed. I do think for many of us life is a roller coaster, and other times more like just a walk in the park, but mainly we are somewhere in-between this. If we let ourselves just accept this as the way we live our lives, then I feel this is quite a limiter for us, and we can then end up not having the best life we could have because of it. It is important that we see our bodies and minds like a car, we wouldn’t not service the car, change the oil, repair those things that have got worn out or look after it with regular maintenance etc. We are no different really, we need that regular input into our wellbeing to help keep our health at those top levels.
When we go into a fight, flight, and freeze response, then one of the many things our bodies do in a millisecond, is get ready to keep us safe in those life and death moments. Our bodies often limit our necks from moving to help us not look behind us, as this could slow us down and make us freeze in fear if we are being chased by something super scary. But also, to brace our bodies from an impact that could severally damage us. We know that most of those ups and downs in life are not life-threatening but our primaeval mind doesn’t always see this in the same way. If this is happening to us, we might feel a tightness in our neck and shoulders, difficulty moving our heads from side to side, feeling less flexible, we can also get a burning feeling as well as pain. This can then lead to issues down your spine and also it can lead to tension in your head, even headaches and migraines.
What will help us is to firstly stop those worrying habits from flooding into our minds and bodies. Always remember if we are not worrying, our bodies can, and do, just relax. But if we have let these stresses build up then it’s time to stretch away those built-up tensions in our necks.
- Neck Extension. Gently extend the neck by looking upward and bringing the head backwards, while keeping the shoulders and back stationary. Once the head has gone back as far as it can go without increasing pain, try to hold the stretch for 5 seconds before returning the head to the starting position. You will feel the stretch along the front of the neck and through your throat. Those muscles working hard at the back of the neck may also be felt, from the base of the skull down to the upper back.
Neck Flexion. Gradually lower the chin toward the chest and look downward while only moving the head. Once the head has been flexed forward as far as it can comfortably go, hold the stretch for 5 seconds before returning to the start position. When you are stretching you will feel this throughout the back of the neck.
Lateral Neck Flexion. While keeping your shoulders and back still, slowly bend the head to one side, such as by bringing the left ear toward the left shoulder. Once the head has flexed as far as it can comfortably go to the side, try to hold the stretch for 5 seconds before returning the head to the central position. Then do the same to the other side of your neck, stretching in the opposite direction. When you do this stretch it will be felt along the right side of the neck.
Neck Rotation. Keep your back straight and shoulders still, gradually turn the head to the left as far as it can naturally go without increasing pain. Once the head has reached its rotation limit, hold the stretch for 5 seconds before bringing it back to the central position. This same stretch is then repeated to the right.
Some of these stretches can be challenging, and they might differ from one side to the other. Do remember while doing this, less is more; don’t make it hurt, just go to those points of resistance. If you do each of these four stretches, three times each on both sides, it will over time start to make a big difference to that stress you are carrying. If you have an acute stiff neck that is particularly painful and difficult to move, it may make sense to only try each of these stretches once before giving it a rest. Also, if you’re under a physio or GP already for neck issues, then you might want to just check with them first before starting these exercises.
You can do these stretches a few hours later, or perhaps the next day. As time goes on, these stretches should start to feel more comfortable and you will feel more flexible as well. If this is the case then you can increase the holding time in the stretch positions for 10 seconds, and also do more sets of these stretches. At each step of the way, it is important to remember that the goal is to improve neck flexibility and function, not increase pain. As neck pain and stiffness has been reduced, you can then do this less, but don’t give it up, it’s a great self-maintenance exercise that you can add into your self-help routine.
I love these stretches and will do these while chilling in the evening. You can even do them while you’re watching tv or listening to music. You can fit this in and it will help you feel more relaxed. Have a great day. Sara