Facial Muscle Tension and The Impact on Stress and Emotions

The face is a powerful communicative tool. We make thousands of facial expressions each day (some of which we aren’t even aware). Over the years, the value of nonverbal communication has become more noticeable. However, what you might not realize is that the muscles in your face can be affected by your emotions and the other way around.

When you think about what part of your body ‘feels’ your emotions, you may suggest your heart or even your stomach. However, another part of your body that ‘feels’ these emotions are your muscles. Your facial muscles in particular react to your emotional states of being.

How Can My Emotions Affect My Facial Muscles?

Think about a moment when you felt happy – allow that memory to surface and notice what you are doing with your face. You most likely are smiling right now. Notice what your neck feels like when you are smiling. It is most likely light and movable. Notice what your shoulders feel like while you continue to smile. They are most likely relaxed, hanging softly without tension.

Now think about something that makes you feel stressed. As you bring this memory to mind, be aware of what your body and your muscles do in response to this new emotion. It is most likely that your shoulders would have become tense and raised slightly higher. Your neck may be stiffer and held quite firmly. You may be clenching your jaw, tensing your facial muscles, and feeling an overall tightening of these muscles.

There is usually quite a difference in the way that your facial muscles react to the emotions you are feeling. You can become more aware of these shifts and changes by attuning yourself to the different muscles in your face. You can do this by relaxing and tensing each part of your face and noticing how it feels and how it affects your experience of your emotions.

How Does Stress Affect Facial Muscle Tension?

With your new awareness you may think back to times you were stressed and remember feeling pain or stiffness in your facial muscles, jaw, shoulders, and neck. This may even have progressed to tension headaches and backache.

When you feel stress for prolonged periods of time your body begins to hold the physical sensations that your emotions are causing. This is often caused by the activation of your sympathetic nervous system – the part of your nervous system that readies you for your fight or flight response.

However, you aren’t fighting or fleeing – you are probably stationary and focused on the work that is stressing you. Therefore, that muscle tension is held and not released. This can develop into longer term problems such as temporomandibular joint disorders and tension headaches.

What Does Facial Muscle Tension Look Like?

If you are experiencing facial muscle tension it may look like the following:

    • Tingling in the facial region.

This could be felt as a light buzzing or itchiness on the face, especially around the larger muscles such as the cheeks.

    • Flushing of the face.

This can be seen as reddening of the facial skin. It is usually temporary and will lessen when the heightened emotions lessen. This can also be felt as an increase in temperature in the face.

    • Damaging the lips.

This is often due to biting or chewing of the lips or insides of the cheek. This can happen unconsciously and you may only realize that you are doing it after you have injured yourself.

    • Tension headaches.

These headaches are often dull throbbing pains situated over the eyes and in the temporal regions. They may also be experienced towards the back of the head and down into the neck.

    • Hunching of shoulders.

You may experience an unconscious lift in your shoulders. This lift may be tense and increase the muscle tension through the neck and shoulder area. This can cause discomfort and a feeling of unease.

  • Jaw tension and clenching of the teeth.

You may experience clenching your teeth or tightening your jaw when you are stressed. This may even move into grinding your teeth. These behaviors may be completely unconscious and you only become aware of them when you feel the pain in your jaw.

How To Release Both Facial Muscle Tension And Stress

When you think about supporting your facial muscle tension, it is helpful to see it as a symptom of your emotional stress. This means you can support it in two different ways. The first way provides a more immediate relief and the second way provides a longer term decrease in facial muscle tension.

Physical Release

When you are looking for a more immediate release of your facial muscle tension, there are some exercises that you can use to stretch and release the muscles.

  • Smiling – smile widely and hold this for 5 seconds, then relax your face completely for 10 seconds. You can repeat this a few times.
  • Shoulders – squeeze your shoulders to your ears for 5 seconds, then release them completely for 10 seconds. You can repeat this for a few times.
  • Neck – gently roll your neck from side to side a few times. Only go as far as feels comfortable and remember to keep the pace slow.
  • Jaw – consciously release the muscles in your jaw. Open your mouth and move your lower jaw from side to side a few times. Try to yawn and open your mouth as wide as comfortable.
  • Breath – Relaxing your body, breathe in for a count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 4. Now breathe out for a count of 6. Repeat this a few times. Remember each time to relax your body and face first.

Stress Release

Now that you can provide yourself with some immediate relief from the physical symptoms, you are able to focus on what is causing these symptoms. This may require you to look at what your stress activators are and what is contributing to the mobilization of your sympathetic nervous system.

Some of these interventions could be:

  • Carefully prioritizing your time to avoid stress regarding time management
  • Sorting through your responsibilities and determining which you need to focus upon
  • Introducing daily practices such as yoga or meditation
  • Reaching out for therapeutic assistance for more complex stressors

Using both of these strategies can assist you in improving your quality of life and physical well being. When you focus on both strategies you may find that you are able to experience less facial muscle tension and less emotional stress. You have learned how emotions can affect your facial muscle tension. By supporting both strategies you can work towards a long term reduction in both tension and stress.

In Essence…

If you feel that your emotional stress is affecting you physically, you may wish to reach out for assistance. Individual therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction has proven benefits for relieving muscle tension. Our Mindfulness Group Training is designed to help you establish a regular practice and experience the proven benefits of stress reduction and relaxation. If you’re looking to ease facial muscle tension and find a path to lasting well-being, we invite you to join our Mindfulness Group Training. It’s grounded in scientific research, and we’re here to guide you on your journey toward a relaxed, healthier you. Reach out to us and book an appointment to begin to reconnect with your body and create relief from muscle tension.

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