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

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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  • Lance

    So, I am aware of this…except when I’m not. What? Well, I do notice when I “need” to get up and just move, except sometimes when I get wrapped up in something, and that awareness “slips”. Good reminder to just think about it more often. Luckily…no pain!!

  • Jodi at Joy Discovered

    Hi Stacey,
    Great article–what a really good reminder to be *aware* of our body, its movements and what it is telling us–and to *act* on our body’s messages by getting up and moving around. Thanks!! Jodi

  • Katie West/The Levity Coach

    I love the intention you are asking us to bring to our body each moment….having recently started spending more hours at the computer after many years of work that had me up and about…I am trying to be more mindful of stretching an honoring the body messages I am getting
    Thanks Stacey!

  • Tess The Bold Life

    Great questions. I am aware and I do get up and move although I’m not always sitting properly. One of my arms has more tension than the other as well. I’m committing to get up and stretch more. I have began yoga and that’s a miracle in itself!

  • Tom Volkar / Delightful Work

    There are many good reasons for moving around at work. Frequently I like to get up and look out different windows because even that small change can change our perspective and have us seeing things with different eyes upon our return. I’m happy you are looking out for how we feel.

  • Stacey Shipman

    Lance – Yes, we get “caught up” in something…and fail to pay attention to our body. I’m glad there is no pain!

    Jodi – You’re welcome. It is important. Our body carries us, it needs good attention sometimes!

    Katie – The transition from up and about to desk is a tough one…I’m glad to hear you have more awareness for it!

    Tess – YAY for yoga! Yes, it is a blessing, and it’s typical for one side of the body to have more than the other.

    Tom – Yes, a new perspective is also a great reason to stretch…it is good for mind and body!

  • Karl Staib – Work Happy Now

    Listening to our bodies is a vital part to feeling and being successful. If we are too stressed out to enjoy our wins, what’s the point? I like how you described the “wiggling thing” that we do with our shoulders. I know that I do this when I get too deep into my work. When I start doing this I need to step back and listen to my body’s need for movement.

  • Megan “JoyGirl!” Bord

    Stacey, this is so true and the toll sitting/computers/phones/etc. takes on our bodies slowly builds until it manifests into constant discomfort!

    When I started writing at home every day last year without the proper “workstation,” I noticed that my lower back started screaming after a few months. I have a makeshift chair, so this didn’t surprise me. Also, the shoulder on my dominant side gets tense and fatigued very easily.

    If I make sure to move more – get up, walk around, stretch and especially strengthen the tense muscles by doing concentrated movements on them – my pain disappears.

    Thanks for this great advice!

  • Stacey Shipman

    Karl – I couldn’t agree more. I think if we’re able to listen to our own needs we’ll also be more in tune to the needs of others even as it relates to business.

    Megan – Thanks for sharing your story. The movement really does help and I’m glad it’s helping you!

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About Stacey:

Hi and welcome to the Brave Communicator blog where I write about communication as the path to well-being, trust, and influence.

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