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How stressed are you? That’s a good question to ask yourself regularly, particularly during challenging times. Recognising stress is definitely something you want to learn how to see in yourself, so that you can regulate, and manage, your responses to it.

I am sure you will no doubt be familiar with the fact that stress causes our muscles to tense. Or rather that our brain instructs our muscles to tense in response to stressful event or situations. These muscular contractions are involuntary, they happen automatically, often we are not even aware of them occurring. Like for example, the slow accumulation of stress and tension as a work deadline looms.

Other times it is more blatantly obvious, for example if you have a near miss when driving or get some kind of a fright.

Interestingly, even just thinking about stressful events or situations can trigger this response too. Such as say, ruminating over an argument, a perceived wrong or a nerve-racking interview. 

If we know muscle tension is an automatic response to stress, we can use muscle tension as a good indicator of how stressed we are. And conversely, we can use an absence of muscle tension as a good indicator of how relaxed we are.

So How Can We Assess Muscle Tension?

It is really very easy to assess yourself for muscle tension. All you need is your own hands. Tense, tight, contracted muscles feel stiff and hard, they will often be tender and sore to touch too. They make your movements feel stiff and restricted. Knots in your muscles are also merely contracted muscle fibres, small sections of the muscle that are habitually contracted.

Relaxed muscles on the other hand are soft, pliable and pain free. They will not be sore to the touch and they allow for free and easy movement. Fully relaxed muscles also will not have knots of tension in them.

So armed with this simple information we can easily start to identify which parts of our body are the most tense, and where we tend to express our stress, by simple pressing on our muscles.

Let’s Find our Tight, Tense, Stressed Out Spots!

Whilst sitting (or standing) it’s very easy to take your right hand and press the muscles on the top of and to the rear of your left shoulder. Just like in the image below. In fact I’m sure many of you do this kind of thing instinctively already. When you do this, let your left arm hang loosely by your side.

Press gently on the top of the left shoulder moving your hand more inwards towards the neck and then more out towards the outermost part of your shoulder. You’ll likely find that parts of the shoulder are very hard, tight and uncomfortable to press on. That’s muscle tension! Make a note of these areas or spots.

Then, switch sides. Let your right arm hang loosely, then use your left hand to press on the muscles of your right shoulder in the same way described above. Again notice which areas are stiff, tight, hard and tender to touch. There may be some difference side to side. Just make a note.

All those areas that are hard, tight, and tender to touch on your shoulder are areas where the muscles are habitually contracted. Your brain is holding those muscles more tightly than is necessary. In Somatics this is called Sensory Motor Amnesia. Basically you/your brain have forgotten how to let these muscles relax.

Now allowing your right arm to hang loosely by your side, take your left hand again and press on your right chest muscle, from your sternum (the hard area in centre of your chest) all the way out to your armpit, and also all the way along under your collarbone from the centre out. Again your looking for areas that are hard, tight, tender and sore. If you find tender spots, make a note of them.

Then repeat this process on the other side, using your right hand to press on your left chest as you let your left arm hang loosely by your side.

You can do this all over your body, pressing gently and noticing where is hard and tight, and where is soft and relaxed.

You might be surprised at just how much of your body is stiff, hard, and tight. No wonder you feel stressed, and sore right?

By learning some simple Somatics movements called pandiculations ,you can learn to let go of these chronic patterns of tension and maintain a softer, looser and more relaxed body.

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