Six stress-busting exercises

10 October 2017 by
First published: 18 November 2017

Six stress-busting exercises

Feeling frazzled at work? These six stress-busting exercises will make you feel more at ease, says the Octopus Clinic’s Lucy Macdonald.

Excessive stress reduces productivity, can cause pain and other health problems like a reduced immune system and raised blood pressure and generally sucks the enjoyment out of life. We all know that exercise is good for stress, but sometimes it is difficult to find the time in our busy lives. Luckily, as a physiotherapist with over fifteen years’ experience treating pain and injury in people with high octane lifestyles, I have whittled down six quick exercises that you can incorporate into your day to become more resilient to the stresses that life throws at you.

All the exercises should be completely pain free. Make sure you see a physiotherapist or an osteopath before attempting the exercises if you have any pain or injuries.

Chair Twists

Are you familiar with the feeling of tightness in the upper abdomen and lower chest when things are stressful? Whether conscious of the feeling or not, this tightness is because we often stop breathing from lower lungs and take more shallow breaths when stressed. By doing these chair twists you will get your ribcage moving and increase circulation to this part of the body resulting in a wonderful feeling of release. You can easily fit the exercise into your day at work, at home, or even on public transport on your commute.

How to do it: Sitting upright, shuffle your bottom forwards in your seat and turn so you can reach the back of the chair. Hold the back of the chair with your hands and gently pull yourself around. Repeat five times in each direction. Watch a video of how to do the exercise in more detail on the Octopus Clinic website here.

Shoulder Exercise

Many people stare at a screen of one sort or another for prolonged periods of time which, in combination with gravity dragging everything downwards, causes our shoulders and upper back start to slump. Adopting a more upright posture can immediately give the feeling of being able to take on life’s challenges.

How to do it: Simply imagine a string pulling you upwards from the crown of your head. As you do this you should feel your upper back straightening and the back of your neck lengthening. Keep your chin tucked in as you do so and let your shoulders gently drop backwards and down. Do not attempt to stick your chest out or force your shoulders too far back and down or you may end up with neck or shoulder pain. To find out more about correct shoulder posture watch this video and to train the muscles that enable you to this exercise watch this video on strengthening your shoulder extensors.

Breathing Techniques

When your breathing is shallow due to stress, the air does not reach the base of the lungs and this is where optimal gas exchange occurs. To improve the oxygenation of the blood and therefore improved brain function and a feeling of alertness it is important to draw the air downwards using the diaphragm. This also mobilises the mid back, having a calming effect on the nervous system.

How to do it: Either lying down or sitting, start to pay attention to your breath. Do not breathe deeply, just aim for normal, gentle breathing. Put one hand on your upper abdomen and try to imagine there is a balloon under your hand. As you breathe in the balloon inflates slightly and as you breathe out it deflates. Repeat at least ten times. To find out more breathing techniques watch this video.

Camel-Cat Exercise

This is a wonderful stress release for the spine, shoulders and hips.

How to do it: Kneeling on your hands and knees slowly round your back into a camel hump tucking you bottom under and chin in, feeling all the structures of your back stretching out. Then reverse the movement to stretch the front of your body, sticking your bottom out and arching your back like a cat. Repeat ten times.

Foam Roller Release

A 90cm foam roller is worth investing in for this exercise which feels particularly wonderful after a stressful day sitting at work as it opens-up the whole spine, shoulders and chest.

How to do it: Lie on a foam roller with your head on one end and your bottom on the other. Keep your chin tucked in and maintain your natural lumbar curve, depending on your spine this will mean either a little gap or less pressure through the base of your spine. Turn the palms of your hands to face the ceiling and stretch your arms out away from your sides as far as is comfortable. Relax, breathe gently and allow your mind to drift to a relaxing place like the beach or mountains. Stay like this for as long as you can, but at least for a couple of minutes.

Sometimes focussing on the stability muscles of the lower back and pelvis can focus and therefore calm the mind. To find out how to do this exercise on a foam roller watch this video.

Get Moving

Finally, try to incorporate general exercise into every day. Get of your bus/train one stop early and walk the last stop, walk up and down the stairs or escalator, walk to the shops or walk to run errands as much as possible. The truth is that the more you move the more your body and mind will thank you.

For lots more advice and for free access to around one hundred physio exercise videos please go to or contact Lucy Macdonald at You can also follow her on twitter @octopusclinic or Facebook: Octopus Clinic. For appointments at her London clinics call 020 7583 8288.

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Article Name
Six stress-busting exercises
Feeling frazzled at work? These six stress-busting exercises will make your body feel more relaxed and your mind more calm.