Stress can come from any number of sources that can sometimes catch you off-guard, but its effects on the body have a fairly predictable pattern. Most people carry stress tension in the shoulders, neck and head -- which is why a stressful day can bring on a nasty headache. A massage can do wonders for tense, sore muscles, and a gentle touch from a friend or loved one can ease stress from the inside out.
Ask your partner to sit up straight, then use your hands to gently align the head and shoulders. Your partner's ears should be directly above the shoulders, and the shoulders should be directly over the hips. Poor posture can cause tension and make stress soreness worse. You can also instruct your partner to lie face-down on a firm bed or a carpeted floor. Ask your partner to place one of his cheeks on the floor, so that his head is resting on its side.
Warm a dime-size amount of massage oil or lotion between your hands until it's at body temperature. The oil helps your hands slip over the skin and avoid chafing. You can skip this step if your partner stays clothed. Since you'll be massaging the scalp, your partner may need to wash afterward if you use oil.
Locate the hard bones of the shoulder blades and the spine. Avoid bone while you're massaging, focusing only on the muscles.
Place your hands on your partner's shoulders. Place the balls of your thumbs between the shoulder blades, next to the spine. Press into the muscles between the shoulder blades -- primarily the large trapezius and levator scapulae -- using medium pressure and slow, circular movements. Work from the spine out to the shoulder blades and back in again. You can also roll a tennis ball across your partner's shoulders if your thumbs get too tired. Place the ball between your palm and the area between your partner's shoulder blade and spine. Press gently and slowly roll the ball up and down.
Add more oil to your hands and rub them together until the oil is warm. Place your dominant hand on the nape of the neck -- where the neck and shoulders meet -- and the other hand on the top of your partner's head. Use your thumb on one side of the back of the neck and your fingertips on the other side to apply slow, light, rhythmic pressure that moves slightly backward. If your partner is lying down, let your partner rotate the neck so that the face is pointing to one side, then to the other, during the neck massage. You'll hit the upper trapezius, sternocleidomastoid and longissimus muscles. Work your way up to the base of the skull, using a pulling-back motion.
Ask your partner to sit up if he is lying down. Add more oil to your hands, then place your thumbs at the back of his head and place your fingertips at his forehead, at the hairline. Move your fingertips in slow, circular motions. Use light to medium pressure, and pretend you're shampooing your partner's hair. You can also pull large hunks of the hair very gently and slowly -- without any sharp tugs -- holding it close to the root. Finish by slowly rubbing the temples and jawline in circular motions with your fingertips -- many people clench their jaws and carry stress headaches in their temples.
Always work slowly and check in frequently with your partner to make sure you are using the right pressure.
Avoid pinching the muscles between your fingers and thumb.
When you're massaging the neck and head, avoid the soft indentation behind the ear, where the jaw meets the neck, since this is a nerve pressure point.
If you feel a pulse on the neck, lighten your grip -- you're pressing on a blood vessel.
Lindsey Robinson Sanchez, from Bessemer, Ala., has written for the "Troy Messenger," "The Alabama Baptist" and "The Gainesville Times," where her work was featured on the AP wire. She has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Florida. She writes style, beauty, fitness, travel and culture.