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Stress and Tension at Work: When Your Body Speaks, Do You Listen?

Posted Jan 27 2010 1:36pm

Do you ever notice during the day, maybe after an extended amount of time at the computer or your desk, that your body starts to move? For example, your shoulders roll back to stretch your chest muscles (especially if you sit at a computer) or you twist side to side in your chair to relieve pressure on your lower back?

Do you give in to the movement and allow your body to move and stretch or do you ignore it?

That movement is your body signaling, “Hey, I’m ready for a break!”  Sitting too long (hunched over a computer or talking on the phone) can create physical stress on the body. And that physical stress, when ignored, can lead to pain or muscular tension and discomfort.   I don’t know about you, but when I’m in pain my productivity goes down as does my ability to focus and stay present to tasks or people.  I can only focus on the pain.

In a recent stress management workshop, I noticed a participant rubbing her shoulder after I guided the group through a muscle relaxation exercise. Concerned, I asked, “Are you ok?” She responded, “I’ve had shoulder pain for about 5 months and after that relaxation exercise, the pain is gone.” She spends most of her time behind a desk and on the phone.

I personally spent more than a year going to physical therapy, chiropractic care, massage, acupressure and acupuncture to stretch and strengthen my muscles and relieve the shoulder pain that resulted from poor posture at my desk.  A lot of time and money I’ll never get back.

What can you do?

The first step to relieving the physical stress and tension that might build during your day is to become aware of it.

Earlier today I received an email from a participant in a stress management talk I presented yesterday:

You are on to something! Ha! Just noticed that I was doing “that thing” with my shoulders that you pointed out yesterday in your presentation ~ you know, the wiggling back thing that means I have been at this computer too long! So off I go for a stretch and a walk around the neighborhood! No need to have any “shoulder stuff” going on!
All best, D.

With increased awareness you can do something about it, just like the woman above.  Start by noticing:

Your posture while sitting. Ideally you want both feet on the floor, back tall, and 90 degree angles at your hips and at your knees.

How you hold your body. Are your shoulders relaxed, or up by your ears?  Do you walk standing tall, or are you rolled forward?

Any movement your body wants to make. Maybe it’s time to stretch or move.

The last time you took a break. Have you left your desk at all and moved your body?

In this fast paced world, people and technological distractions make it easy to ignore the signals from your body.  The truth is, spending even a few minutes stretching or moving, even during a busy day, can help clear the mind and aid in pain and discomfort resulting from poor posture or sitting too long.  Creating awareness is the first step.

Listening to your body and giving it what it needs, even during your buys work day, is taking care of your health.    And that is feel-good living.

When your body speaks, do you listen?

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