Last week we talked about how stress can make your chronic pain worse. Stress can trigger or exacerbate muscular pain, abdominal pain, and pelvic pain. Stress can cause headaches, migraines, lower back pain, eczema, rashes, hives, immune system weakness, decreases in the number and function of white blood cells and contribute to weight gain, sleep problems, depression and the risk of heart attack or stroke. To reduce the pain you’re experiencing, you need to eliminate as much stress from your day-to-day life as possible.
Unfortunately, many people believe that stress is not a serious risk to one’s health; that it is something you just need to deal with as a part of life. They believe you press through stress and it will pass – much like the attitude many erroneously hold toward chronic pain. Promoting National Stress Awareness Month in April is one way health professionals hope to educate and advocate for increased public attention concerning this growing health epidemic.
You can overcome the pain associated with stress through a number of stress-reducing techniques. The American Psychological Association, The Health Resource Network, The Stress Institute® and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend regular exercise, meditation, relaxation, sleep and properly planning your work, and taking frequent breaks as among the best techniques for coping with pain-inducing stress.
Whether it is a walk around the block, a run in the park or a trip to the gym, proper exercise can help you blow off steam and elevate built-up energy and tension. By getting active, you’re giving your brain the action it expected when it turned on your “fight-or-flight” mode, allowing you to reduce your stress levels once you leave the gym.
In a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, “sixty-two percent of adults who say they exercise or walk to help manage stress say the technique is very or extremely effective.” A 2010 University of Georgia study found that, among 3,000 patients in 40 randomized clinical trials, those who exercised regularly reported, on average, a 20 percent reduction in anxiety symptoms compared to those who did not exercise. Physical activity can also help reduce your pain by building up muscle and, according to the New York Times, increasing your pain tolerance. Exercise can also help you control your weight and inflammation, both of which may exacerbate chronic pain.
To reduce stress, you need to let your brain know that you’re not in danger or facing a threat. Finding ways to relax your mind is one of the best ways to do this. Meditation, yoga, and deep breathing are techniques you can try to calm your mind. Research has shown that meditation lowers blood pressure in people who are normal to moderately hypertensive. According to a study in the Clinical Journal of Pain, those trained in meditation were able to reduce chronic pain by more than 50 percent (Kabat-Zinn, 1986).
Relaxation techniques can be a challenge at first. If you stick with the process and learn how to master the skill, you can implement meditation techniques no matter when or where you’re hit with stress.
Falling asleep can be a struggle for anyone dealing with chronic stress. The longer you go without a night of restful sleep, the more stressed you will feel. If you want to reduce your stress, you need to make getting a good night’s sleep a top priority.
To fall asleep faster, try using a nightly routine to help your mind relax. Taking a bath, drinking a cup of caffeine-free tea, and reading a book are all great ways to prepare your body for bed. Avoid working until late at night and, while in bed, stay off screens, including your mobile phone or computer. If you’re still struggling, the National Sleep Foundation suggests using relaxation exercises.
If you’re feeling stressed because you’re overwhelmed at work or you don’t have time for the things you really enjoy, find a way to better plan your time. Creating a schedule and sticking to it can prevent you from feeling overwhelmed, putting you at risk for chronic stress.
Try to make time for something relaxing each and every day. Take up a hobby that you enjoy that helps you unwind and practice it immediately when you’re done with work. This can help you shift your brain into relaxation mode for the rest of the night, letting it know it’s time to stop stressing about work.
The Business Insider compiled results from several research studies for their infographic 15 Ways to Manage Stress According to Scientists. Sourcing the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, WebMD, and Cal Newport – Deep Work, among others, highlights the following notable additions to techniques mentioned above.
Adapt a stress-reducing diet. Consume balanced amounts of whole grains, lean meats, fresh fruits and vegetable to manage stress.
Laughter heals. According to the infographic a “study on college stress levels found that laughter, yoga. and reading significantly reduced stress.”
Relax to music. “Many studies have found that listening to soothing sounds like nature soundtracks or classical music can lower stress-related blood pressure,” the infographic says.
Make time to nap. “One study found that participants who napped after a sleepless night had decreased levels of the stress-related hormone, cortisol.”
Cultivate friendships. “In a recent survey,” the infographic cites, “43 percent of Americans who said they had no one to turn to for emotional support also reported their stress had increased in the past year.”
If you’re still unable to reduce your stress, it may be time to talk with your doctor — especially if your stress is making your pain worse. A doctor can help you identify other types of stress-release techniques or recommend a health professional who can better help you cope, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Your doctor can also provide you with other pain-relief options while you’re working to get your stress under control. With the right medical team, you can find a pain-relief option that helps you live life comfortably.
It isn’t always easy to reduce our stress levels. Unexpected quality-of-life problems or health challenges can emerge anytime that cause anxiety. But if your stress is causing you pain or exacerbating existing pain, it’s time to make a serious change. Consider the stress-reducing techniques mentioned in this post and how they may be able to help you.
No one is immune to pain, but together we can overcome it.