woman stretching arms at desk

When you're feeling tense, a good stretch can go a long way toward helping you relax. But you may not always have time to drop into a yoga class or hit the mats at the gym. Learn a few simple stretches to do on your own time, whether at work or at home, to help improve flexibility and ease mental tension.

Before you stretch, take five to 10 minutes to warm up with some light, limbering activity, such as walking or jogging. Try to hold each stretch for about half a minute before switching sides and repeating.

Shoulder Stretch
You can do this easy stretch to take a break from the computer in your office, or any time you need to relax and loosen your upper body. Simply bring your right arm across your body, holding it tight with your left arm--you can grasp it either above or below your elbow. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, then release and repeat on the other side.

Neck Stretch
This is another good way to relax when you need a break from deskwork or have been sitting too long on the sofa. Tilt your head slightly to the left, and a little forward, using your left hand to gently pull your head in a downward direction. If you're doing this stretch properly, you should feel a gentle stretch along the back right side of your neck. Repeat on the other side.

Upper Back Stretch
You can use this stretch to help with your posture and to ease back tension: While standing in a relaxed pose, stretch both arms out in front of you. Your arms should be parallel to the floor. Then move your shoulder blades together, bending slightly at the elbows. Hold for 30 seconds, then relax and repeat.

Hamstring Stretch
To stretch your hamstrings, lie on your back near the outer corner of a wall. Lift your right leg up, with your knee slightly bent, and place your right heel against the wall. Your left leg remains on the ground. Then slowly straighten your right leg--you should feel a stretch in the back of your right thigh. Switch legs and repeat.

Calf Stretch
You can get a good calf stretch by standing in front of a wall at arm's length. Use the wall for support, as you place your left food about a step's distance behind your right foot. This will bring you into a gentle lunge. Bend your right leg forward in a controlled manner, while keeping your left knee straight, with your left heel flat on the floor. Your back should be straight and your hips should be forward. Switch legs and repeat.

Do What You Can
You may not always have time to make it to a yoga class, but you can usually find a few minutes each day to do some basic stretches. Not only will stretching help you feel more limber, it's also a great way to put your mind at ease. Remember to avoid the temptation to stretch further than your bodily will allow. You shouldn't feel any pain - if you do, you've stretched beyond your limits. Over time, you're flexibility will improve, and you may notice that you can reach further than ever before.