Stress and tension often gathers in clusters or ‘hot points’ in our bodies.
Particular hot points are in and around the facial muscles such as the eyes, jaw, forehead, neck and shoulders.
Whilst most people recognize that their shoulders and neck become tense, we often forget about how much tension we hold in our eyes and jaws.
Luckily there are a few ways we can address this:
First things first, doing short body scans throughout the day and identifying when we are building tension in a hot point can be helpful. In case you’re not familiar with body scanning, it’s essentially a relaxation technique where you sequentially direct your attention to different parts of the body, like say from the toes gradually up to the crown of your head. You’d be surprised how much mere awareness of tension can relieve that very same tension.
Unburden the eyes
The eyes may feel strained or creased, especially when we spend a long time staring at computer screens or other screens, such as cell phones and TV. Ensuring we wear corrective glasses if we need to is something many people neglect, but it’s important not to overly strain your eyes during your day and also learn the various ways of specifically relaxing the eyes, like say taking eye-breaks, meditating, blinking more often, improving air quality and lighting to name a few.
Relaxing the jaw
We often clench our jaws without realizing it as we concentrate or when we are stressed. Or we hold our mouths tightly shut when we aren’t talking. Take some time throughout the day to try and stop what you are doing and just notice if your jaw is clenched or not.
This tension is often related to our breathing. If we’re breathing quickly and through the nose, our jaw is often tense. Doing some simple breathing techniques like breathing through the nose (2-3 sec) and out through the mouth (4-5 sec) can help, making sure we consciously relax the entire face especially the jaw on the out breath.
We might also change our facial expressions on purpose and see how that feels in our jaw, eyes, forehead and cheeks. A wide smile followed by grimacing can tell you a lot about where you have been holding tension. We can also tell if we have been frowning, causing us to build tension into the eye area and the muscles above the eyes in our brow. While you’re at it, try smiling more often in general, it suits you good!
Shoulders and back
Our shoulders and back are to hold a huge amount of stress and tension. The saying ‘carrying the weight of the world on your back’ is very apt here.
Sometimes this leads to knotted muscles and cramping. In some cases, booking yourself in for a professional massage, or getting a loved-one to help work these knots out can be advisable. If you are suffering from a burning or aching sensation in your shoulders, especially when you are working at a desk, take some time to stretch your muscles and focus on the tension.
Some simple yoga stretches every few hours are especially beneficial if you spend long periods sitting at a desk. Walking outside and swinging your arms freely can help as well.
Remember that our whole body is one organism, tensions and stress in one area can and does easily affect other areas. This is precisely why focusing some energy on relaxing your shoulders and back can indirectly prove to be effective for the relieving tense muscles in and around your face.
That being said, it’s not always easy to remember to scan our body and check for tension, but here are some ways you can remember to do so.
When you are feeling anxious your neck and shoulders as well as your jaw and eyes are often where the most tension will rest. This is because your body is going into flight or fight mode and is readying itself for action. In of itself therefore, this isn’t a negative thing. However, when we tense our body we can feed into the emotion of anxiety.
So, the next time you feel anxious take a moment or two to focus your attention not on what you are anxious about, but how it’s making your body feel, your senses and the breath. Sometimes we find that when we focus on our body sensations – such as a knotted stomach or cramped feeling shoulders and neck, we can relax them and release the tension.
This conscious awareness directly impacts our emotional state, not only reducing anxiety levels but also improves your general well-being.
External and internal clocks
Many of us break our days up into hours of work. We are advised to take a break at least once an hour from activity, and this is a great time to check your body for signs of tension. Some of it may be related to your activity, such as anxiety or concentration, but other times we might have sat in a way which is not great for our posture.
You can try setting an alarm for each hour and when it goes off taking two minutes to scan your body, stretch and breathe deeply. Take notice of your hot points and try to relax each one in turn. After a few days of using an alarm you will often find you don’t need it anymore. You’ve made your external clock into an internal one which checks for tension and helps you manage it.
10-minute face massage
Now that we’ve gone through the body-scans techniques we can do with our mind, lets look at more concrete or “hands-on” ways of relieving tensions present in our facial muscles.
Here is a ten-minute face massage that can work wonders for you, especially before bed. The best bit? You can do it yourself!
You will need some massage oil which is suitable for your skin, or if you don’t have that to hand then using a little bit of moisturizer also works fine. (You can also try doing this with a quality face massager)
- Using the first two fingers of each hand, begin at the base of the neck and begin to gently massage the skin there in small outwards motions. Pay particular attention to where your neck meets your jawbone.
- Lightly tap your fingers up the sides of your jawbone until you reach the pressure points by your earlobes. Very gently press these and massage in a small circle.
- Gently rub your earlobes between your thumb and forefinger and then lightly brush your fingers over your ears. Work your fingers back down your jawbone until you reach a point at the base of your chin where your fingers meet.
- Gently push underneath your chin and massage lightly. Then with firmer, sweeping motions, begin to work your fingers up your cheeks to your cheekbones. Press your cheekbones firmly and massage in small outward motions until you reach your temples.
- Gently massage your temples with small circular motions and then move inwards to the outside of your eye sockets.
- Very gently massage around your eyes, avoiding the eye itself. Use light tapping motions if this area is very sensitive.
- Smooth your hands gently up the side of your nose until you reach the point between them, called your ‘third eye.’ Lightly press into this point and slowly massage in a circular motion.
- Tap your fingers across the top of your brow and up your forehead and when you reach the middle begin to massage in firm circular motions.
- Continue upwards until you reach your hairline. Place the fingers of both hands onto the top of your forehead until they meet in the middle.
- Slowly pull your hands away from each other, moving them down the sides of your face, until they meet again underneath your jaw.
If it’s night and you did indeed complete the face massage, you might be feeling quite sleepy.
Let’s talk a little bit more about sleep, relaxation, tension and how they relate to each other.
Now, many people mistake falling asleep due to tiredness with falling asleep due to being relaxed. It may sound strange but whilst we want to go to sleep when we are tired at the end of the day, many of us are still tense and stressed as we fall asleep. Have you ever woken up feeling tired and with cramps in your body? Often this is because you have been emotionally and physically tense, even as you fall asleep.
Set up a bedtime routine. It doesn’t have to be long and can be catered to your needs. A warm bath, the previously mentioned face massage or simply twenty minutes of soothing music will help. Make sure you stretch your body before you go to sleep. The backs of the legs and the neck and shoulders are often areas which hold tension and can even lead to poor quality sleep.
Whilst it is often advisable to meditate whilst you aren’t sleepy so that you ‘fall awake’ into awareness, rather than falling asleep, some deep breathing and nightly meditation can really help to clear your mind and body of tension.
Before you get into bed each night stretch and breathe out your tensions and anxieties. Pay attention to your hot spots, to your eyes and neck, as well as shoulders and any other areas you feel are still carrying the stresses of the day inside.
You might be surprised at the change in the quality of your sleep. Relaxed sleep is far different to sleep brought on by mere exhaustion.