This is part of Lark’s “Checking in on Yourself During Quarantine” series. The pandemic has drastically altered many aspects of our lives, and the new normal of the stay-at-home lifestyle has likely impacted you both physically and mentally. It is important to check in with yourself regularly to assess how you are coping, so that you can identify self-care practices that will support you. Lark’s “Checking in on Yourself During Quarantine” series is all about slowing down, taking stock of how you are doing, and learning about easy things you can do to nourish your body and mind during COVID-19.
The world has changed a lot in the past year, and your lifestyle has likely changed some along with it. Whether you had to adjust to working from home rather than commuting to an office or whether you are now working even more actively on the front line, your daily habits may have changed drastically during this time.
Without you even knowing it, these changes in routines and added levels of stress may have taken a silent toll on your muscles. So it is important to take time to check in with your body, see if you are experiencing any extra tension, and learn simple stretching exercises to support flexible and healthy muscles.
Check in with yourself: how’s your tension?
Take a moment to slow down and tune in with your body. Ask yourself:
- Do I notice any areas of tightness or tension?
- Am I feeling less flexible than usual?
- Are any certain muscles feeling strained, tight, sore, or overused?
- How is my range of motion?
- Do I find it easy to perform daily tasks, or does any tension in my body make it difficult?
After checking in with your body and assessing your levels of muscular tension, you may find that you aren’t quite as flexible as you are used to. Or you may find that certain muscle groups feel strained and tight from the changes in your daily routines or habits.
If that is the case, then you would likely benefit from a consistent stretching practice.
The powerful benefits of stretching regularly
When we lose flexibility and become tight, the range of motion in our joints gets smaller and our muscles actually shorten. Then, when we need to use our muscles to perform some movement or activity, they are weak and can’t perform as well as they should. That puts us at risk for strains, pain, and damage.
Stretching and improving our flexibility can also help us to:
- Protect our joints
- Allow for maximum range of motion
- Boost our energy
- Protect against harmful effects of repetitive motions and injury
- Increase blood flow to our muscles
- Bring awareness back into our body
- Cope with stress [1,2,3,4,5]
7 easy stretches to release pandemic tension
If you have added stress and tension building up in your body that is showing up in tight muscles, then it is time to introduce a stretching routine to your day.
Luckily, stretching doesn’t have to be complicated and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Just 3-4 minutes of an activity like stretching can ease your muscles and improve blood circulation.
Try out these easy and effective stretches to increase your flexibility and ease tension during quarantine:
1. Neck stretch
If you are sitting and staring at a screen all day, your neck may become tense.
To stretch out your neck, bend your head slightly forward and slightly to the right. Place your right hand on your head, and gently pull your head downward. You should feel the left side of your neck stretch. Hold for about 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
2. Hamstring stretch with a wall
Sitting in a chair all day can result in tight hamstrings (the muscles that run along the back of your upper leg).[2,7]
Lie on the floor near the corner of a wall or door frame. Lift your right leg as high as you can, so that you come close to making an “L” shape with your legs. Rest your right heel against the corner of the wall. Try to slowly and gently straighten your right leg until you feel a stretch along the back of the thigh. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs.
3. Shoulder stretch
Many people hold stress in their shoulders, and a lot of us walk around with tight shoulders without even realizing it.
To stretch out your shoulders, bring your right arm across the front of your body, so that it is pointing to the left. Use your left arm to hold your right arm close to your body. Hold for about 30 seconds, then switch arms and repeat.
4. Wrist stretch
Phone use, gaming, typing, and other activities that are common in quarantine can put stress on your wrists.
Stretch your wrist by holding your right arm straight out in front of you. Using your left hand, pull your fingers backwards so that you are gently stretching the right wrist. Hold for 30 seconds, then flip your right hand down and gently pull with your left hand to stretch your wrist in the opposite direction. Hold for 30 seconds, and then repeat with the other hand.
5. Chest opener stretch
If you have been feeling tight and need to loosen things up in your center, this is a great stretch to turn to.
Interlace your fingers behind your back, and then gently pull back and down to stretch your arms. You should feel your chest opening up to the front. Hold for 30 seconds, allowing both your chest and shoulders to release tension.
6. Child’s pose stretch
Another great stretch to loosen everything up and release tension is child’s pose. This yoga pose can stretch your back, shoulders, hips, ankles, and sides of your body.
To do this stretch, sit on your knees, bringing your hips to your heels and spreading your knees slightly apart. Place your arms out in front of you as you lower your torso and bring your belly toward your thighs. Rest your forehead on the ground, and actively stretch your arms forward while continuing to lower your chest towards the ground at the same time. Hold for 30 seconds and then release.
7. Lower back stretch
Lower back pain is a common issue, especially when you spend a lot of time sitting.
To stretch your lower back, lie on your back on the floor. Bring your right knee up to your chest, keeping your left leg relaxed. Using both arms, gently pull the right knee as close to your chest as is comfortable, so that you feel your lower back begin to stretch. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs and repeat.
Tips for safe and effective stretching
Follow these tips to make sure you are getting the most out of your stretching routine and staying safe at the same time:
1. Be patient. It likely took many months for you to get as tight as you are now, so know that it will also take a while to get flexible again. Don’t expect results overnight. Daily, consistent practice will get you where you want to go with time.
2. Stay consistent. If you don’t stretch regularly, you’ll lose any flexibility you’ve been gaining, making stretching a “use it or lose it” practice. Aim to stretch at least 3-4 times per week, if not every day.
3. Stretch when warm. Stretching should never be a warm up, and you should always get your muscles warm before you start to stretch.
4. Remember to breathe. Exhale while going into a stretch, then continue to breathe deeply in and out as you hold.
5. Hold for 30 seconds. Aim for about 30 seconds for each stretch.
6. Balance it out. Stretch evenly on both sides to maintain balance in your body.
7. Don’t bounce. This can be unsafe and can lead to injury.
8. Stop if there is pain. Stretching should not be painful. If you feel mild tension or discomfort, you are getting a good stretch. If you feel pain, you should stop.
9. Use caution if injured. Be careful if you have an injury, and consult with a healthcare professional to determine what stretches are safe for you.
10. Combine stretching with other physical activities. If you really want to improve your flexibility and your fitness at the same time, consider an activity like yoga or tai chi. These can be done at home with the help of online videos and classes. They are great for you because they combine flexibility with physical movement, breath work, and strengthening exercises.[1,2,3]
For many people, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a time of changing schedules, disrupted routines, and added stress.
Take some time to slow down and tune in with your body to see if the pandemic has resulted in more tension in your muscles. If you could do with relieving some tightness and increasing your flexibility, set aside a few minutes each day to try out simple stretches like the ones described above. Focus on major muscle groups like your thighs, hips, lower back, neck, and shoulders.
Stretching can help you to keep your muscles healthy, bring awareness back to your body, and more. The CDC also recommends stretching as an effective tool to cope with stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Get started today with this simple self-care practice, whether it’s first thing in the morning, on your lunch break from work, while watching TV, or before you head to bed.