Stress is normal. We all feel it from time to time.
A small amount of stress, such as a new challenge or an impending deadline can actually be helpful. It can lead to increased alertness, energy and productivity. But chronic stress can have serious consequences on your mind and body. It can increase your risk of developing depression and anxiety, negatively impact your immune system, and increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Stress triggers the 'fight or flight' response, which prepares the body for “battle” or to run away. Hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released, causing your heart rate, metabolism and breathing rate to speed up – and causing your muscles to contract.
If you’re feeling stressed for a long period of time, your muscles – including those in your face - can remain contracted or partially contracted. Eventually, this tension may lead to mild or severe discomfort.
The symptoms of facial tension include redness in the face, jaw stiffness, dull or aching pain across the forehead, and numbness or tingling. It has been suggested that stress can cause tension headaches or (some) migraines.
It can also cause:
Tooth damage. Many people start clenching and grinding their teeth when they feel stressed or anxious. Over time, this can cause damage, like gum recession and cracked teeth.
Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders. Repeated clenching of your teeth can affect the (temporomandibular) joint where your jaw connects to your skull. This can cause pain in your jaw and in the muscles that control jaw movement.
There are more than 50 muscles that make up your facial structure. Exercising them may help reduce facial tension.
Here are some face exercises that can relieve facial tension:
- Happy face. Smile as wide as you can, hold for the count of 5 and then relax. Repeat ten times.
- Slack jaw. Let your jaw fully relax and your mouth hang open. Bring the tip of your tongue to the highest point of the roof of your mouth. Hold this position for a count of 5, and then ease your jaw back into a resting closed mouth position. Repeat ten times.
- Brow furrow. Wrinkle your forehead by arching your eyebrows as high as possible. Hold this position for a count of 15, and then let it go. Repeat three times.
- Eye squeeze. Close your eyes tightly and hold this position for 20 seconds. Then, make your eyes go blank: Completely let go of all the little muscles around your eyes and stare expressionless for 15 seconds. Repeat three times.
- Nose scrunch. Wrinkle your nose, flare your nostrils, and hold for the count of 15 and then release. Repeat three times.
Stress takes a toll on both the mind and the body. If you are experiencing facial tension, consider trying some simple stress reduction techniques such as facial exercises.