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Do This One Stretch Every Day for a More Stress-Free Life, Say Experts

Here's why targeting your shoulder tension can help you live a more Zen existence.
FACT CHECKED BY William Mayle
stretching hands behind lower back

Stretching is a physical act, but it offers many mental benefits, as well. When our minds are clouded by stress and worry, our muscles react accordingly, tensing up and leaving us feeling stiff all over. Stretching can actually reverse this process. Taking some time to loosen up during a stressful day can help calm an anxious mind. "Muscular tension is a common manifestation of psychological tension, and by treating one aspect you can positively affect the other," explains Jordan Duncan, DC, MDT, a chiropractor and expert in pain science at Washington's Silverdale Sport & Spine. "We often carry stress in our shoulders, therefore stretches that help to relieve physical tension in this area can go a long way toward relieving stress."

Stress will not only appear in your shoulders, says Duncan, but also your neck and your upper body. This is why headaches are so common during stressful days—all that tension in the upper body doesn't have to travel far to make its way to the head.

If you're looking for a simple way to start stretching more regularly—and you'd like to add some stress-relief to your daily life—consider trying this one stretch below for instant stress relief. It's quick, it's easy, and it can be done anywhere, at any time—no equipment required. Best of all, it targets all of these bodily areas simultaneously that Duncan highlighted above. So read on, relax, and for more on the benefits of limbering up more every day, don't miss the One Major Side Effect of Stretching More Every Day, According to a New Study.

How to do the shoulder stretch with your hands behind your back.

Strong Man Stretching Arms Behind Back at Sea

Stand up straight and place your feet shoulder-width apart. Then, clasp your hands behind the small of your back (like you're holding hands with yourself). Pull your elbows back as you lift your chest. Once your chest is fully lifted, extend your arms down as far as possible without feeling discomfort. Hold the stretch for at least 10 seconds, and remember to breathe deeply throughout. While in this position, do your best to keep your stomach tight and spine straight. By this point, you'll probably have heard a few cracks around your shoulder and upper back—that's normal. And for more on the benefits of stretching, see the One Incredible Side Effect of Doing Yoga You Never Knew, According to a New Study.

This stretch can also improve posture.

Woman sitting at desk upright good posture
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Poor posture has become the norm instead of the exception in recent years, and it isn't much of a mystery why. We all spend far too much time hunched over, staring into screens. Modern technology makes the world go round, but it's done a serious number on humanity's collective posture. If the people in your life are constantly asking when you're making the big move to Notre Dame, this stretch is an easy way to start improving your stature.

"Regularly practicing this shoulder stretch, clasping the hands behind the back, will help to strengthen the back muscles associated with proper posture while opening up the chest. As these muscles become stronger, the more likely someone is to maintain good posture even when not performing this stretch," says Liza Egbogah, BSc, DC, DOMP, a body and posture expert. "Having proper posture combats forward slouching, meaning that your lungs can become fully oxygenated, and when airflow is at its optimum, the release of stress hormones like cortisol is reduced, while the production of happy hormones, such as endorphins, increases."

It benefits the chest and biceps too.

bicep curls
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This really is the stretch that just keeps giving. Besides providing some relief to the back and neck, this stretch also does a great job of opening up blood flow to the biceps and upper chest. This helps improve airflow and breathing, which is another important aspect of beating stress. "By opening the chest, you are not only able to stand taller, but you will also be able to breathe better with more expansiveness in the breathing muscles such as the diaphragm," adds Lara Heimann, PT, creator of LYT Yoga Method.

But if you're looking for more of a challenge…

Close up fit woman with arms behind back doing stretching exercises.

If this stretch is just a little too easy for your liking, consider trying out the "reverse prayer pose." Originating from yoga, it's the next logical step in your stretching journey.

Just like before, place your hands behind you on the small of your back. Only this time place them in a prayer position (like the emoji, fingertips together). While pressing against your back lightly, slowly move your conjoined hands up your spine.

Now, this pose is a bit harder to get the hang of, so don't worry if you can't get your hands all that far up your back. Once you comfortably can't move any further, push your shoulders back and lift your chest as you tilt and look upward. The pinky side of your hands should be pressing into your back to help push your chest up. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Be sure to let out a big breath before bringing your torso back up. And for more great tips for living a more stress-free life, make sure you're aware of the 9 Worst Foods to Eat When You're Stressed Out, According to Experts.

John Anderer
John Anderer is a writer who specializes in science, health, and lifestyle topics. Read more
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