Bwog’s In-House Masseuse Zoe Camp is not techinically a Stressbuster. She went through with training,  but didn’t get certified officially. That can’t stop her from telling you how to help yourself relax during this stressful time, in the first installment of our new relaxation series. Treat yourself (literally!) after your long day of finals.

The Ref Room can be just like this

Ah, finals. The time of the year when you seem to have a stress-induced headache every other day, your daily nutritional intake is at least 50 percent Red Bull, and you want nothing more than to lounge on a beach with a mai-tai while models fan you with palm fronds. It’s easy to let things like relaxing your muscles fall to the back of your mind, and who has the money or time for a massage? Luckily, there are some handy techniques that can help make that crick in your neck from a late night in Butler a little less of…well, a pain in the neck.

For Headaches:
90 % of headaches are due to tired, overworked muscles, and spending hours slouched over a laptop certainly doesn’t help either. A common headache culprit is the set of muscles at the base of the skull—the suboccipitals. When these muscles are stressed, they can cause a nasty headache that extends from the back of the neck, up the side of the head to the back of the eyes. To relieve some of the pressure, place your index and middle finger underneath your ears and slide them around to the back of your neck, right at the base of your noggin. You’ll know when you’ve found your suboccipitals—in most people, they’re constantly stiff and sensitive to the touch and radiate pain up into the base of the skull when pressed. Apply moderate pressure for about ten seconds, release (keeping your hands where they are) and repeat a few more times. Voila! That headache became a bit less aggravating.

Then there are the headaches that feel like someone’s put a rubber band around your head—the classic tension headache. In these cases, a scalp massage can be helpful. It’s really easy, just place your hands on either side of your head and use your finger pads to apply light pressure to the scalp. Try not to just move your fingers. For full effectiveness, it’s important to make contact with the muscle. If you want to go a bit harder, try using your knuckles or the bony part of your thumb. Don’t neglect your temples. It feels great to apply a little bit of light circular pressure there as well.

It may sound strange, but lightly tugging on your earlobes is another way to help your muscles relax and lighten the pain of a headache. Pull down for 3-5 seconds, release, and repeat as needed.

For Stiff Shoulders:
First things first: those shoulder circles you used to do back in gym class are still useful. Every hour, take a break to rotate your shoulders 10 times in each direction.

Most shoulder stiffness stems from the trapezius, a large, triangular muscle very close to the skin. Luckily, this superficiality makes it easy to reach the upper parts (for the regions that extend into the mid-back, you might want to consult a friend—or a stressbuster!) To make those shoulders a little less stiff, cross an arm in front of your torso so you can place the palm of your hand on the shoulder on the opposite side. Apply pressure how you see fit. Circluar, kneading motions are your best friends here. If you don’t mind a little bit of productive pain, try using your thumb and index finger to pinch the tense muscles for 10 seconds or so, before releasing and repeating. It might make you wince, but it’s also a great way to relax those pesky traps, which, come finals week, tend to be as tense as a run-in with your ex at Ferris.

Miscellaneous Massage Madness:
Your poor hands no doubt need love too—especially after filling mountains of blue books and typing for hours on end. For a nice stretch, extend your forearm in front of you and use your opposite hand to push your fingers back towards your forearm. This produces a nice wrist stretch that feels especially good after a lengthy essay. Your hands are also full of pressure points. The most sensitive in a lot of people is the one located in the webbing of the hand, right between the thumb and index finger. This point is located nearest the bones of your thumb, and you’ll know when you’ve pressed it because it will feel very, very sore. Take deep breaths, and apply moderate pressure for about 30 seconds. Regular working of this pressure point is believed to help with headaches and relaxation.

Another set of pressure points can be found right above the bridge of your nose, at the innermost edge of your eyebrows. If you thought the last spot was tender, this set of pressure points can be even more sensitive – applying too much pressure downright hurts. Instead, lightly rub in a circular motion for 30 seconds to stimulate your sinuses and add yet another technique to your headache-fighting skill set.

In-House masseuse (i.e. yourself) via Wikimedia