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The Importance of Stretching When You Feel Stressed.

As someone who regularly writes about stretching, I know about the importance and the benefits that come from doing it daily. Yet, when I personally underwent a significant amount of turmoil, I completely disregarded the importance of stretching when you feel stressed. A month later, I am still paying the price.

 

One Sunday night, I came home to my apartment after a lovely afternoon with a friend. I was ready to order food and have a relaxing night in, when I noticed that my sock felt wet. With a sinking feeling in my gut, I looked down to see my floors covered in water.

 

There was a mini waterfall flowing down my bathroom ceiling and running down the wall. My bedroom looked like a wading pool, complete with yesterday’s clothes floating around like water toys. I was shocked that I could barely think, but I knew I had to do something, so I started phoning my parents and grabbing my few towels.

 

Four loads of laundry, countless restoration workers, and a solid five hours later, I collapsed into a bed at my family’s place, feeling completely lost. How do you begin to process what has just happened and what your next steps are?

 

Over the next few days, I could feel that I wasn’t thinking straight. Simple conversations were like dragging through mud and it took everything I had not to burst into tears at any second. I was incapable of working and I couldn’t think of any solutions- nor was I capable of accepting anyone else’s suggestions.

 

Feet stepping in a puddle of water on a hardwood floor.

Walking through water on the hardwood floor.

 

This was just the first way that stress was beginning to affect me.

Over the next few days, I was gradually beginning to calm down and starting to work a bit, but I was utterly exhausted. I would fall into bed a good three hours earlier than usual, feeling too drained to even think about stretching. Survival mode was on, but I was not thriving.

 

After a few days of talking to several different people who all offered unique perspective and help (and many crying bouts), I started feeling emotionally better and my mental wellbeing was improving. I had a tentative plan, a roof over my head, and was feeling less anxious than before.

 

Then I started feeling the physical effects of stress on my body.

 

It started out as a twinge in my knee when I would walk up stairs, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. Then it became a permanent headache that I assumed was simply from too much screentime. The final straw was when I developed constant hip pain, regardless if I was sitting, lying down, standing, or moving around at all.

 

I finally decided to call someone to see if they could help me relieve the pain from feeling stressed.

My chiropractor managed to squeeze me into her busy schedule, and she was downright shocked when I saw her. Normally, I might have a tight spot or two that is quickly remedied. This time, my entire body was tight and completely out of alignment.

 

Stress had amplified the effects of scoliosis on my body. My right hip was jutting out several inches further than my left, my right leg was shifted up so that it appeared severely shorter than my left, and my shoulders were lopsided.

 

There were several spots that left her baffled, as it took several attempts with multiple techniques for only a slight improvement. In the past, all it took was 1-2 small adjustments and I was right as rain. Stress had locked my body up so severely that after an extended appointment, my chiropractor looked downright baffled, advising me to get at least one massage and significant amounts of stretching in before seeing her again in three days.

 

My massage therapist was of a similar mindset, warning me that while we could stop if it got to be too much, I would have to endure some pain before things would get better.

 

Knickknacks in the shadow of a bedframe

The last of the knickknacks on my bedframe to pack away before restoration begins.

 

The slow and steady process of regaining my physical health.

 

I’ve been stretching twice as much as usual and while I’ve been noticing that I’ve not been as misshapen as I was, I am still in decent amounts of pain from stress-induced muscle tension. I’m finally able to release one of my hips on my own again by leaning forward in a straddle sit! (Normally, I can release both at the same time, but my muscles have been so tight that they haven’t budged.)

 

With two chiropractic sessions, three massages, and countless stretching sessions under my belt in the past two weeks, it is only highlighting the importance of using stretching as a way to manage stress release and preventative maintenance. Without it, it has cost me a couple hundred Canadian dollars to try to rectify the problem.

 

In hindsight, I wish that I had stretched, even just for 5 minutes, during those days of high stress. I have yet to walk away from a stretching session where I haven’t felt better than before I started. Every bit of exercise acts as a mental and physical reset, which helps to prevent stress from building up to unbearable levels.

 

In a weird sort of way, I knew that not stretching was going to hurt me, those past weeks. It was a convoluted thought process of knowing that stretching would help me to relieve both physical and mental stress, but it was also the concern of invalidating my own suffering by recovering that I didn’t want to experience. It is not logical but can be a common issue when someone is experiencing strong, negative feelings.

 

If you can learn anything from my experience, know that when life is at its worst is when you need to take care of yourself the most.

 

A pandan tea latte in a white cup, from DOSC Edmonton.

A pandan latte from DOSC in Edmonton, getting out of the house to break the downward mental spiral.

 

Make sure you are eating and drinking enough and that you are sleeping as much as you can. Talk to your loved ones as well as trained professionals who can help you to understand what you’re feeling and allow you to process your emotions safely. Don’t be afraid to cry or yell or make weird art about the situation.

 

Most of all, make time for yourself to stretch. Stretch for a few minutes at night while you’re brewing a cup of tea or in the morning before you start problem solving. This will enhance your ability to focus, allow you to sleep better, and prevent your body from breaking down due to all the stress.

 

When life is tearing you down and you feel stressed, you don’t have to be a complicit bystander. There is a light on the other side of the tunnel, and while it may hurt and come without an end date, you will be alright once the dust settles. Embrace self-compassion, stay calm, and hang in there since once you’re at the bottom, the only way left is up.

 

Written and images by Kayla Willsey