Often cited as a symptom of chronic stress in our go go go society, muscle tension occurs when a person experiences persistent tightness, and sometimes pain, in one or several muscles or muscle groups. Muscle tension can be anything from a minor nuisance to a debilitating condition that makes it almost impossible to go about your daily activities. Some people experience severe muscle tension to the point where they may have to spend days in bed. Several factors often combine to induce muscle tension, including chronic inactivity, mental stress and anxiety, and sometimes neuromuscular disorders. Luckily, there are also multiple methods to relieve muscle tension stress: taking a relaxing herbal supplement like kava is just one way to free yourself from persistent muscle tension, along with exercise and mental techniques you can use to destress your life.
Muscle tension is a physical phenomenon that quite often has psychological roots, although medical conditions such as polio and musculoskeletal disorder may also cause muscle tension. Furthermore, women sometimes experience tight or painful muscles as they undergo the hormonal changes associated with menopause, especially if they’re experiencing stress as a result of these changes. However, by and large the biggest cause of muscle tension for most of us is the everyday stress of modern living. For instance, jobs that require people to perform the same repetitive motions, such as working as a mail carrier, janitor, store clerk or waiting tables (to name only a few high-activity jobs), can cause their muscles to tense up and make it hard to relax at the end of the day. Those of us who work at a desk often don’t fare any better: sitting in front of a computer all day can make you hunch over and cause tension in the muscles of the back, neck, and shoulders as well as tension headaches. Emotional stress from pressures at work or difficulties in your home life can also cause you to carry an undue load of tension in your muscles.
For the unfortunately large number of people who suffer from anxiety disorders of one kind or another, muscle tension can also be a somatic symptom of mental distress. Our psychological state has an amazing amount of influence over our bodies: when your brain is experiencing a prolonged or heightened anxiety response, it frequently spills over into physical reactions including muscle tension and weakness, tremors, heart palpitations and even rashes. The good news is that there are as many ways to relieve muscle tension as there are causes: physical exercise and massage, meditation techniques, and relaxing herbal remedies including kava can all help to mitigate muscular tension and pain.
Physical exercise may seem like an obvious remedy; after all, it stretches out your muscles and improves flexibility if done regularly. Yoga is especially effective for muscle tension because it focuses not only on stretching the muscles, but also trains practitioners to breathe effectively and focus their minds on the present pose. Effective breathing and meditation (with or without yogic exercises) are both proven techniques for reducing stress and improving your alertness and energy levels. Other than getting enough sleep every night, there are few things more effective in reducing your levels of stress and tension than regular exercise. Consistent meditation is also a great way to relieve tense muscles, as psychology suggests that muscle tension is often a manifestation of inner mental stress, and taking a few minutes a day to focus your mind can help you feel less tense and harried.
Of course, people who work full-time often feel like they have no time to engage in tension-reducing exercise. Our answer is that there are a multitude of small but equally beneficial exercises you can do at your desk to relieve muscle stress and reenergize your body. Try taking an hourly break to stretch the muscles of your shoulders, neck and back by sitting up straighter and lifting your arms above your head with fingers interlocked. If you don’t want to be so conspicuous, you can try smaller exercises such as breathing in deeply from your belly: this will massage your ribs and reoxygenate your whole body. Slightly parting your lips is another small exercise with big effects: when you part your lips it relaxes your jaw, tongue, and neck and prevents you from unconsciously grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw.
Finally, herbal relaxants like passionflower, chamomile and of course, kava, can help you recoup after a long day or act as daytime remedies for muscle stress and tension. Studies have shown that kava, taken either in a brew, capsules or tincture, has a direct effect in alleviating muscle tension. Kava root contains compounds called aryethylene pyrones with muscle relaxant properties similar to benzodiazepines such as Valium. Even better, kava root comes without the side effects of impaired thought and slowed reaction time which people often exhibit with tranquilizers. Clinical studies have shown that people suffering from anxiety perform better on tests that require memory and concentration after taking kava as compared to a benzodiazepine. However, we still recommend you don’t drive or operate machinery after using kava, as it can impair reaction times for these activities.
Though the average bowl of kava contains enough kavalactones to moderately sedate you, there are also less concentrated kava capsules or tinctures you can use during the day to take advantage of kava’s anxiolytic effects. The modest dose of kavalactones in a kava capsule can banish anxiety and offer relief from stress while not interfering with your alertness or ability to be productive, making kava capsules a perfect workday herb.
Everyone has stress to some degree, and we all manifest it in tense muscles and tired bodies on occasion. Part of the reason our muscles may get tense when we’re stressed is to make our brains aware of this inner state; once you become aware of the tension you’re carrying in your body and mind, you can take steps to reduce it. The important thing to remember is that ultimately, there are many ways you can decrease your levels of stress and muscle tension: exercise, meditate, breathe deep and take a sip of kava to watch your tension melt away… it’s all up to you!