Neck muscles release

Tension in Neck and Shoulders From Anxiety: 5 Home Remedies

The areas where you’re likely to feel stress or anxiety-related tension are in your neck and shoulders. Over time, this can lead to chronic pain as well as other health issues.

Fortunately, muscle tension in your neck and shoulders responds well to stretching, yoga, relaxation, and other stress management methods.

Let’s explore several simple techniques you can use to help release tension in your neck and shoulders, as well as some stress management strategies to help calm your mind and body.

When you experience a stressful event or a bout of anxiety, your muscles contract, sometimes forcefully. This is an automatic or reflex reaction. It’s known as a stress response or “fight or flight” response.

It’s your body’s way of gearing up to face a perceived physical threat that you’ll need to fight off or run away from. Along with muscle tension, you may also notice other physical symptoms when you’re stressed or anxious, such as:

  • a fast heart rate
  • quick, shallow breathing
  • cold skin
  • sweating

Although your body’s stress response is designed to help you deal with physical threats, your body responds in the same way when the threat isn’t physical. Your muscles may tighten up when you’re stuck in traffic, dealing with pressure at work, or watching the news.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), your muscles and other organs may only relax again once the perceived threat has passed.

If stress is ongoing — meaning the stressful situation doesn’t seem to have a clear end — your body may stay in a heightened state of readiness to face a threat. As a result, your muscles may stay tense and tight for much longer than they need to.

According to the APA, ongoing muscle tension in your neck and shoulders can lead to more serious issues like back and shoulder pain, body aches, and migraine and tension headaches.

Preventing stress-related neck and shoulder tension isn’t always easy to do, especially in today’s busy world. But, there are techniques and strategies that may help relieve muscle tension and ease pain and discomfort.

Here are five stretches and poses you can do on a daily basis to help relieve tension and tightness in your neck and shoulders.

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The neck stretch is a deep stretch that eases tension in your neck and helps improve your range of motion.

  1. Stand tall with your left arm at your side.
  2. Place your right hand on your head with your fingers pointing to the left side.
  3. Gently pull your head toward the right side until you feel a stretch in the left side of your neck.
  4. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and return to center.
  5. Repeat on left side.
  6. Do 2 to 3 times on each side.

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The neck release is a gentle way to loosen tension in both your shoulders and neck.

  1. Stand tall with both arms at your sides.
  2. Lower your head and bring your chin toward your chest.
  3. Gently tilt your head towards the right side and pause for 30 seconds. You should feel a stretch in the left side of your neck.
  4. Bring your head back to the center and lift to the starting position.
  5. Repeat before changing sides.
  6. Do 3 to 5 times on each side.

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Child’s Pose or Balasana is a well-known yoga pose that can help relieve neck and back pain. It’s also a gentle stretch that helps you relax.

  1. Get on your hands and knees with your palms flat on the floor, wrists under your shoulders, and knees under your hips.
  2. Sit back on your heels, lengthen your spine, and walk your hands in front of you. Make sure to hinge at your hips.
  3. Fold forward and keep your arms extended in front of you.
  4. Hold this position for 60 to 90 seconds. Focus on your breath while you release tension in your neck and shoulders.
  5. Return to the starting position and repeat.
  6. Do 2 to 3 times.

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The Cat-Cow or Chakravakasana is a yoga pose that allows you to stretch your back, torso, and neck, helping to release tension in these areas.

  1. Get on your hands and knees with your palms flat on the floor, wrists under your shoulders, and knees under your hips.
  2. Inhale and move into Cow Pose. Drop your belly towards the mat and lift your chin and chest. Look up at the ceiling. Open your chest and shoulders. Pause for a few seconds.
  3. Exhale and move into Cat Pose. Pull your belly toward your spine and round your back toward the ceiling. You should be looking down at the mat. Pause for a few seconds.
  4. Inhale and come back into Cow Pose and repeat the sequence.
  5. Do 10 to 12 times.

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Thread the needle is a stretch that helps release tension in your back, neck, and shoulders.

  1. Get on your hands and knees with your palms flat on the floor, wrists under your shoulders, and knees under your hips.
  2. Slide your right hand (palm up) on the floor to the left side of your body. Your body will rotate with the movement, and your right shoulder will touch the floor as you look to the left side. Use your left hand to support your weight.
  3. Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds and return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat on the left side.
  5. Do 2 to 3 times on each side.

Yoga is an excellent activity to help release stress-related tension in your neck and shoulders. In fact, one study found that 9 weeks of yoga resulted in pain relief and functional improvements in people with neck pain.

There are also some other strategies you can use to help relieve or prevent tension in your neck. For instance you can:

  • Apply a warm compress to the tight area.
  • Spend a few minutes doing a self-massage.
  • Soak in a warm tub, and add a few drops of aromatherapy oil for extra relaxation.
  • Adjust your workstation, so your computer is at eye level to avoid neck strain.
  • Check your posture while you’re at your work desk — keep your hips, shoulders, and ears in a straight line.
  • Get up and move away from your workstation for a few minutes every hour.
  • At night, use a pillow that offers good support for your neck, and is designed to keep your head and neck aligned.

We all experience stress. It’s almost impossible not to feel anxious or stressed at some point or another. But, just as your body has an automatic response to stress, it also has a built-in system to calm you down.

Known as the relaxation response, it helps you recover from the “fight or flight” response. It brings all your systems back to normal and returns your body to a calm, resting state. The relaxation response also helps protect your body from health issues related to the stress response.

There are a variety of skills and strategies you can use to help the relaxation response kick in. Here are some of them:

Stress management skills
  • Exercise and physical activity. Moving your body, even for 20 minutes a day, may help lower your overall stress levels and reduce tension in your muscles. If you can, get outdoors and take a brisk walk in nature.
  • Breathing exercises. Belly breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, is one of the simplest ways to relax. Voluntarily controlling your breathing can signal your entire body to relax. With belly breathing, you breathe in deeply through your nose, allowing your belly to expand, and exhale through your mouth. Once you know how to breathe this way, you can use this skill often to help you relax.
  • Yoga. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, mind and body practices like yoga can help relieve stress, reduce anxiety, and boost your overall well-being. If you’re new to yoga, you may want to begin with a 10-minute restorative yoga session.
  • Meditation. Research has shown that practicing meditation may help reduce the inflammation response caused by stress, and also decrease anxiety. Start with 5 minutes of meditation at a time, and increase by a few minutes each week.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). According to a 2013 study, PMR can help reduce symptoms of chronic neck pain. To do PMR, simply tense each muscle group in your body one at a time, and hold for 5 seconds. On the exhale, relax the muscles for 10 to 20 seconds before moving to the next muscle group.

Keep in mind that as with any new skill, regular practice is the key. These practices may not work for you right away and that’s OK. But, as you use them over time, you’ll likely find that they help return your body to a calmer, more restful state.

Tension and tightness in your neck and shoulders is a common symptom of stress and anxiety. It’s part of your body’s way of gearing up to survive a perceived physical threat. In other words, it’s part of the “fight or flight” stress response.

Fortunately, muscle tension in your neck and shoulders responds well to several different techniques, including targeted stretching, yoga, and other relaxation methods.

However, if the pain in your neck or shoulders is severe, or doesn’t improve with stretches or other self-care techniques, make sure to follow up with your doctor.

5 stretches that will relieve neck pain and tension

Diet & Fitness

If you work at a computer all day, this daily stretch routine will keep tension at bay.

Working on a computer all day can cause muscle stiffness that can limit neck movement. Chad Springer / Getty Images/Image Source

By Stephanie Mansour

Stiff neck? The area above your shoulders is one that commonly holds tension, especially if you're sitting at a desk all day (with sub-par posture) or constantly staring down at your phone screen.

According to research, neck pain may feel like a "kink," stiffness or severe pain. This pain may spread to the shoulders, upper back or arms, or it may trigger headaches and cause numbness, tingling or weakness in your arms.

In general, neck pain refers to pain anywhere from the area at the base of the skull into the shoulders. And technology is one of the major culprits. “As a culture we put our necks through hell with our reliance on technology, which creates forward head carriage, and results in neck muscles that go into spasm and refer pain into our heads, temples, and even behind our eyes,” says Brad Butler, chiropractor and author of “The Blueprint for Back Pain Relief: The Essential Guide to Nonsurgical Solutions.

"The most common causes of neck pain are either postural or positional. The modern-day life style of sitting at a desk looking over a computer for multiple hours unfortunately leads to a forward head position where the skull moves forward of its placement on the first cervical vertebra," says Lara Heimann, physical therapist and creator of LYT Style Yoga. "Every millimeter that the skull is off-center places a strain on the posterior neck muscles. These muscles on the back of the neck have a chronic stress and load on them that creates tension and pain.

You may not be able to get away from the computer, but there are things you can do to reduce the strain. "To alleviate this pain, one must first position the computer at eye level to prevent the forward shift of the head," says Heimann. "Also stretching the back of the neck muscles will help alleviate the tissue tightness present."

"There are things you can do to assist with the prevention in neck pain," adds Karen Joubert, PT. "I would recommend a visit to your local physical therapist to address your daily routine, habits and posture. Secondly, a good program of postural awareness along with movement-based stretching will have a positive impact in your further prevention of neck pain."

Stretching the neck muscles is one of the simplest at-home (and at-work) prevention techniques to keep tension at bay. This routine can be repeated daily to alleviate neck pain and keep your neck loose throughout the day.

Assisted neck pull

Place your hands on the base of your neck with your elbows pointed out to the sides. Stand up tall and take a deep breath, and then exhale as you drop your chin towards your chest, pulling your elbows down towards the floor. Gently allow the weight of your hands and arms to weigh your head down further, and take a few deep breaths here.

Ear drop

Interlace your fingers behind your back, resting your hands on the small of your lower back and pulling the shoulders down and back. From here, drop your right ear to your right shoulder, and hold for a few breaths. Then switch sides.

Forward fold with head nod

Hinge forward at your hips and bend towards the ground. Hold on to opposite elbows and allow your head to dangle down. Nod your head yes and then shake your head no.

The yes stretch

In an exaggerated nod, say "yes' with your head. Lift your head up towards the ceiling and look up as high as you can, and then drop your chin down towards your chest as far as you can. Repeat this 10 times.

Neck circles

Use your chin to draw a circle to the right three times and then to the left three times.

More ways to reduce pain and injury

  • What is plantar fasciitis? And what can you do to relieve the pain?
  • Tips and stretches to reduce wrist and shoulder pain when working out
  • 10 core exercises that are better for your back (and body) than crunches
  • How to reduce knee and joint pain during a HIIT class
  • How to work your abs without neck or back pain

Want more tips like these? NBC News BETTER is obsessed with finding easier, healthier and smarter ways to live. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Stephanie Mansour

Stephanie Mansour is a health and fitness expert and weight-loss coach for women. She is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and Pilates instructor, and host of “Step It Up with Steph” on American Public Television. 

How to relax your back and neck

Stress, sitting at the computer for many hours and carrying heavy weights can provoke muscle pinching and cause pain in the neck, shoulders and back. We tell you how to help yourself on your own in the midst of a working day.

VOICE edition

Every day we face many dangers on the back, shoulders and neck. Even hidden stress can lead to the development of many diseases, from the most primitive clamps to osteochondrosis and spinal hernia. The main cause of many problems with the spine is associated with muscle spasms, and in the most advanced state, this is fraught with blockade of the intervertebral discs.

Do not self-medicate! In our articles, we collect the latest scientific data and the opinions of authoritative health experts. But remember: only a doctor can diagnose and prescribe treatment.

A feeling of excessive tension in the shoulders, back and neck can be triggered by awkward body movements, stooping, staying in an uncomfortable position for a long time, hypothermia, past infection and a number of similar causes that have a negative impact.

The primary pathology is a strong overstrain: the intervertebral discs can be in a clamped state for a long time, squeezing the nerve endings. The feeling of fatigue and pain can be of different intensity, depending on the individual characteristics of the body and the degree of overstrain.

The most vulnerable areas are the roots of the spinal cord and autonomic nerves, they are the most sensitive to overvoltage. Spasmodic muscles compress nerve fibers and blood vessels, which disrupts nutrition in the tissues, and static tension is aggravated by stress and even a minor cold. At the height of the working day, the neck and muscles of the shoulder girdle primarily need local relaxation. Daily warm-up and self-massage can save the body from many serious complications, so it is recommended to set aside at least 5-10 minutes for regular mini-workouts that will help relax cramped muscles.

To do this, use the following recommendations:

1. Breathing exercises are a convenient method for relieving tension in the muscles of the back and shoulders, even at the workplace. Inhale - tension, exhale - relaxation, then inhale without tension, and as you exhale, concentrate on relaxing a specific part of the body.

2. Tighten the most spasmodic area, hold the tension for 20-30 seconds, and then relax while exhaling.

3. Try to pass a feeling of bodily relaxation through the tense area of ​​the back, neck or shoulders: take the most comfortable position and try to make the muscles completely cottony.

4. Massage of tense areas of the body is mandatory: if there is no one who can do it, knead the closed muscles yourself. Try the technique of point deep pressure, vibration massage, massage roller. Slightly pull the skin in the problem area and rub the place of maximum tension.

5. Try a massage with an ice cube, but on the condition that the spinal nerves have not been clogged before: sometimes the application of cold is fraught with aggravation of the situation. Rub the tense area of ​​the back or shoulders with slow movements, moving clockwise. It is very important to move the ice cube in a circle: this increases blood circulation, thanks to which the cells are saturated with oxygen faster. The action of ice causes vasoconstriction followed by a sharp expansion, which leads to a general relaxation of the muscles.

6. If the back, neck or shoulders are in a painful condition for more than three days, it is worth trying the heat treatment. Try making a ten-minute compress with a towel soaked in warm water. From above, cover the body area with a plastic bag and a dry towel for the best preservation of the greenhouse effect. Try to do warm compresses every day.

7. In order to properly relax the muscles of the back, neck and shoulders, use stretching exercises. Just 5-10 minutes a day will help improve the condition of the muscle frame. Try to stretch while sitting with your arms raised, as if trying to reach the ceiling with your fingertips, without looking up from your seat.

8. To relax your neck, perform gentle tilts and turns of your head for five minutes every hour: forward-backward, left-right. Also, to relax the cervical region, this exercise is suitable: tilt your head back in a sitting position and, as it were, stretch the muscles of the neck, moving the jaw up and down.

9. Sitting at a computer for a long time spoils even the most even back, and the feeling of a heavy load periodically falls even on athletic and hardy shoulders. In order to relieve tension and relax your muscles in the right way, give up your usual posture at your desk for a while: change your high chair to a lower one or redo the entire workspace to create the most new conditions for your body.

Neck relaxation tips


Pangea temporary hotfixes here

Do you feel tension in your neck? Let me guess: have you worked at a computer for a long time? But it doesn't matter, we have a solution. (And we promise: it's simple and fast!)

Grace Szeto, PhD, Professor of Physical Therapy at Tung Wah College (Hong Kong) and Logi Ergo Lab Advisory Board member, talks about her favorite neck exercises.

Ready? Go!

For a good stretch, do each exercise slowly 3-5 times:

Step 1
Stretch the muscles by slowly moving your head in all directions. At the same time, relax your shoulders, and keep your chin flush with the body (do not stick it out).

  • Tilt your head down, then tilt back.
  • Flex your neck from side to side.
  • Turn your head to the left and then to the right. Perform each movement with maximum amplitude and hold the extreme position for 5 seconds. Relaxation guaranteed!

Step 2
Circle your shoulders back and down.

Step 3
Move your arms: cross them in front of you and pull them to the sides, lift them up, then stretch them back - each time as far as you can.

Step 4
Finally, stand up and walk around a bit to relax your entire back.

See how simple everything is! However, if you regularly overexert your neck muscles, you should think about the ergonomics of the workplace. Ergonomic work devices can quickly eliminate discomfort. The ERGO K860 keyboard reduces upper trapezius muscle activity by 21% Compared to the standard Logitech keyboard without a wrist rest, which is located in the middle of the back, stabilizes the shoulder girdle and is responsible for the movements of the shoulders and neck.

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