When we’re stressed, we tend to clench our bodies and unintentionally hold in that tension, which, in turn, makes us feel more stressed—creating a vicious cycle. Stretching is a great way to quickly ease this physical tension and help calm our minds.
My favorite out-of-the-box tip to short-circuit stress is to remind my clients to stretch, particularly their psoas muscles. I use psychoeducation to teach them how the psoas muscles are instrumental in one’s mental well-being and structural wellness.
Some physiology: The psoas are the only muscles that connect our spine to our legs. Because they flank the diaphragm, these muscles are literally linked to our breath. When we are in a state of fear and anxiety, the breath is shallow and constricted, and the diaphragm isn’t being used to take deeper, calming breaths. The psoas feel this, and hold that fear.
This means that if we are in a constant fight-or-flight mode due to chronic stress, our psoas muscles are also chronically stressed and constricted.
Stretching the psoas provides a release of stress, literally like a sigh of relief for unconsciously held tension. That is why I often have my clients watch videos and/or work in tandem with a physical therapist or myofascial massage therapist to develop a daily, mindful practice centered around stretching. After all, mind-body wellness needs a multimodal approach!
Give it a try yourself! Stretch your psoas before a session for a great way to meet your next client refreshed.
Jennifer R. Wolkin, PhD, is a licensed clinical health and neuropsychologist, writer, speaker, and mental health advocate. She founded a private practice with an appreciation that our mind, body, spirit, and brain are intimately intertwined and impacted by one another. She draws heavily on tools such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based techniques. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in creative writing with a poetry focus. You can find her on Instagram @drjenpsych_.