Tag Archive for: stress free holidays

How Stress Leads to Pain

How Stress Leads to Pain

How Stress Leads to Pain

People are dealing with more stress than ever right now and it’s impacting people in different ways. Many folks I speak with have been experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions — and their bodies are reflecting that.

Stress impacts everything from your gut, to your immune system, to your mental health, to your musculoskeletal system.

When it comes to musculoskeletal pain – common areas in your body that easily get impacted include your shoulders, jaw, head, and lower back.

Stress is your human response to physical, emotional, or mental changes in your body or living environment.

According to internal medicine physician Richard Lang, MD, PhD from the Cleveland Clinic: “Stress doesn’t necessarily cause certain conditions, but it can make the symptoms of those conditions worse.” And it’s easy to fall into a vicious cycle – whereas your physical symptoms worsen – your stress increases – and so on and so on. 

We know without a doubt that stress impacts our bodies – but exactly how or why this happens is an interesting phenomenon that is still being researched.

But for now – here are some of the working theories on how stress leads to physical pain.

Social conditioning 

Many of us are taught from a young age that expressing emotions, particularly negative emotions, is “bad” or “unacceptable.” The result is that you may have learned to hold stress inside your body when faced with a stressful situation. Researchers who study this believe that the muscle tension we develop is the result of “unspoken social beliefs” that we adopted as children in order to feel accepted or liked. This pattern carries into adulthood and becomes embedded into our subconscious systems, i.e. our nervous system. Later on, when faced with any type of stress, our muscles react based on how we’ve taught them. If you grew up learning to bury emotions and tension somewhere in your body as a response to stress, it’s easy to continue that pattern into adulthood.

Trauma

When we think of trauma – we often associate it with one big event or injury – such as an accident, major fall, or perhaps a violent crime or incident. This type of trauma typically results in obvious physical damage such as broken bones, bruises, or soft tissue and organ injuries. But trauma can also be more emotional in nature and less obvious. Emotional “micro-traumas” typically occur over the course of a lifetime and go unrealized for years. And regardless of the type of trauma or its perceived severity, your body reacts and “remembers” the emotional impact. But these memories are rarely conscious. Similar to what happens with social conditioning, if you’re faced with a stressful situation later in life that reminds your brain of a previous trauma, your body may still react like it did when the actual trauma occurred, except you won’t consciously know it.

For some folks, until they’re able to associate their physical symptoms with the deep, often emotional trauma that happened much earlier in life, they may continue to suffer or worse, resort to lifelong medications to manage their pain. If you’ve suffered from chronic pain and been told there is no “logical” evidence or reason for it, it’s possible it could be related to undiagnosed trauma. Find a therapist (psychology today is a great resource) who’s been specifically trained in this to help you.

Environmental Stressors and Habits 

Your environment and daily habits can have a huge impact on how your body feels from day to day, and they can also influence both physical and emotional stress. For example, if you’ve been reading my articles for awhile, you know that sitting too much is a number one cause of back and neck pain. Sitting too much could be the result of your job – or stress.

When you’re stressed, you tend to be less motivated and you may opt for unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as more TV and more couch time. You’ll be less reluctant to exercise or go for a walk. How you set up your environment can play a big role in combating stress at home. If you’re working from home – choose a set up where you can stand at your computer for part of the day and reduce the physical stress that sitting has on your body. Get the TV out of your bedroom so you’re more likely to get a good night’s sleep and less likely to turn the news on first thing in the morning – which can be a source of stress in and of itself. The take home point is that life is hard enough, set yourself up for success by creating an environment that encourages good daily habits.

Regardless of how or why stress impacts your body, there is one thing I know for certain, movement helps.

Start there and see what happens. Regular, every day movement helps you both physically and mentally and I have yet to see any negative consequences from a daily movement or exercise habit. If musculoskeletal pain is currently keeping you from daily movement – then talk to an expert who can help. 

Request to talk to one of my specialists to see if we would be the right fit to help you get out of pain. CLICK HERE to request a Free Discovery visit with one of my specialists.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To get in touch, or request a free copy of one of her guides to back, neck, knee, or shoulder pain, email her at info@cjphysicaltherapy.com.

Tips for Getting through the Holidays injury and stress-free

The Holidays are here – and while it’s meant to be a joyous time of year – for many reasons it also brings a lot of stress to people’s lives. People find it difficult to get through the Holiday season both injury and stress-free. Besides the obvious mental toll that increased stress levels tend to cause, it also has an impact on virtually all systems of your body. Stress puts our nervous systems on high alert – otherwise known as “fight or flight”.  This is a recipe for all sorts of things such as increased blood pressure, shortness of breath, increased muscle tension, increased cortisol production, an unhappy gut, and more neck and back pain.

But the good news is that it’s not as difficult as you think to combat stress on your own – and give yourself the injury and stress-free Holiday Season you deserve.

Here are 3 tips for getting through the Holidays injury and stress-free:

 

1. Breathe 

I know this might sound cliche, but breathing is one of your best friends when it comes to quickly reducing and interrupting stress. As little as 30 seconds can make a dramatic difference. When you breathe deeply it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The best part is you can do this anywhere — in the car, at the office, while shopping, even in the bathroom. Although breathing may not eliminate stress permanently, it does interrupt it. And interruption is key when it comes to managing stress — both emotional and musculoskeletal.  When you interrupt the ability for the forces of stress to accumulate, you decrease the toll it can have on your body and brain.

2. Practice Gratitude

Did you know that gratitude helps lower cortisol levels in our bodies by about 23 percent? Prolonged stress causes elevated cortisol levels, which causes lots of different health problems such as heart disease and high blood pressure. Research shows that when we think about something we appreciate (i.e. practice gratitude), the parasympathetic nervous system (the calming one) is triggered. Our parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for returning the body to its automatic and natural rhythm. So when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, your heart rate and cortisol levels lower — which is the opposite of what happens when your sympathetic nervous system is activated and you’re stressed out. Your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems can’t both be in charge at the same time – so when you consciously practice gratitude – you actively lower your stress.

3. Get Moving 

Any kind of movement is going to help you control stress for a few reasons. First, it gets your blood flowing which contains endorphins — natural chemicals of the body designed to decrease pain and stress. Second, movement helps to end the “flight or fight” response of your body. In ancient times, our fight or flight response protected us from danger (like a lion chasing us), by triggering us to run away. Running away (movement) would signal the end of the stress cycle caused by fight or flight by letting the brain know we were safe and out of danger. In our modern world, triggers of stress are not as obvious as a lion trying to eat us. The end of the stress cycle is not always clear and can just keep going – one of the ways stress becomes chronic. Therefore, purposeful movement can help decrease stress by physiologically ending your natural fight or flight response. Something as simple as walking can do the trick. But even jumping jacks or dancing in your living room can feel good and get your heart rate up enough to end the fight or flight cycle.  

I hope these tips help you feel confident that it is indeed possible to get through the Holidays injury and stress- free completely on your own. 

Give these easy and practical tips a try and see how you do!

If you find that you can’t, it’s always a good idea to talk to a professional who can help you. A little bit of stress is normal, but being chronically stressed is not.

Cheers to a happy, healthy, injury and stress-free Holiday Season!

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth, NH. To get a free copy of her guide to taking care of back pain naturally – click here.