(BLAIR MOREAU - MERCY HEALTH PARTNERS) - Life, family, works, can sometimes take a toll on our bodies and us. Stress, anxiety, and frustration are a part of our lives. Not only is stress a mental and emotional drain; it can also cause many physical problems. There is an excellent way to relieve stress and it's called stretching. Stress tends to settle in the upper back, shoulders, and neck. It can make you feel uncomfortable, tight and can even be very painful. Stretching on a regular basis throughout the day will help relieve the muscle tension and stress. Try these simple exercises the next time you begin to feel muscle tension.

1. Shoulder Shrugs - Standing or sitting tall, shrug your shoulders up and down ten times in a slow and controlled manner. Repeat the activity two or three times to get the blood flowing in the shoulder and neck area.

2. Neck Rolls - Standing or sitting tall, allow your head to go forward putting your chin in your chest. Slow and in control roll your head to the right and then to the left. Repeat for a total of ten times on each side.

3. Shoulder Blade Stretch - Standing or sitting tall, stretch the shoulder blades by gently pulling one arm across your chest with the other arm. Hold the stretch for a 20 count and then repeat with the other side. Stretch each side three times.

4. Upper Back Stretch - Standing or sitting tall, clasp your hands in front of you with palms facing forward. In a slow and controlled manner, push your palms outward away from you, drop your head and round your shoulders forward to stretch your shoulder blades and upper back. Return hands back to the starting position and pinch your shoulder blades together. Repeat five times.

Stress is a part of our busy lives. The manner in which stress affects us varies with our ability to cope. Stretching on a regular basis will significantly help relieve stress tension. Incorporate stretching into your daily routine to help alleviate stress. Remember, a lose muscle is a happy muscle.