Unfortunately, relieving this strain is not as easy as simply telling yourself to relax your shoulders. Because more than likely, five minutes later, your shoulders are back up in your ears. If you don’t engage the appropriate muscles to properly stabilize the shoulder blades, keeping them in place, it won’t matter how much you try to relax your muscles.
Most people don’t realize that the shoulder blades, technically known as scapulae, are flat triangular bones on the back that are capable of quite a bit of movement. They can go up and down, towards and away from the spine, and even turn slightly. The ideal position of the shoulder blades is a slight, constant downwards (towards the hips) directional pull. Muscles in the back and trunk (lats, mid to lower trapezius, serratus anterior) are responsible for this depression of the shoulder blades, rather than the muscles in the neck or shoulders themselves. When you’re stressed and moving without awareness, the shoulders ride up and these muscles ultimately become strained and overworked as they were not designed to be used this way and are highly inefficient at this task.
So What Can You Do About This?
Essentially, the more mindful you are–the more relaxed you’ll be. The next time you’re feeling tense and overwhelmed, focus on engaging the muscles in your back and trunk as well as softening your shoulders. Just because you carry the world on your back, doesn’t mean that you have to look like you do.