None of us want to admit it, but stress is part of our everyday lives. From the overpacked schedule to unrealistic expectations, stress contributes to sleep problems, relationship issues, and even your health. In addition to elevated blood pressure that can bring a host of other problems, stress weighs us down with physical pain too. With some information and a game plan though, stress doesn’t have to bring you to your knees. When daily stress leads to aches and acute or chronic muscle pain, it’s time to employ ways to reduce stress in your life, and Encore Physical Therapy can help.
Step 1 – Acknowledge the Problem
You may not even realize what is causing your pain. Perhaps you have neck issues you feel are related to too much computer work or back pain you attribute to your office chair. Stomach problems are an often overlooked symptom of acute stress too. In reality, stress should be looked at as a possible cause when evaluating nearly every bodily ailment, and for good reason. While you may recognize common stress-related symptoms like moodiness, irrational thinking, fatigue, frequent illness, stomach issues, and anxiety, remember that the body responds to stress in a variety of other ways too. According to The American Institute of Stress, some common physical manifestations of stress include headaches, muscle tension, neck pain, back pain, muscle spasms, and an increased reliance on over-the-counter medications to counterbalance these issues.
Step 2 – Incorporate Stress Reduction Techniques
Once you’ve acknowledged that stress may be having a bigger impact on your life than you initially recognized, it’s best to reduce stress at the source rather than focus on treating the effects of the damage now or down the road. Dealing with stress requires an assortment of tools. Common and effective tools include:
- Breathing. Some people lump this practice in with meditation, but it can be implemented separate from meditation too. Start with a long, slow, deep breath. Allow your stomach to expand as you inhale. Hold the breath for a few seconds and then slowly let it out in a controlled manner. Exhale a few seconds longer than your inhale. Practice this method for three to five minutes a few times each day.
- Exercise. Get your body moving to reduce stress and increase the feel-good endorphins. Patients suffering from injury or post-surgery healing often fall into a depression stemming from the frustration of being unable to exercise because they are missing the pick-me-up it brings. Of course, when the body is healthy you should keep it that way with frequent exercise. Choose a sport or activity you love to help stay motivated. Create a schedule and give yourself a reward for sticking to it. You’ll feel better and have the ability to cope with stress more effectively.
- Communication. This is often the most difficult tool for people to employ, but dealing with stress in a relationship or at work means effectively communicating your ideas, needs, and concerns. There’s no one-plan-fits-all for communication, but make sure you find a way to express yourself via text, phone, chat, email, or fax so you’re not losing sleep rehashing the same conversation in your head again and again.
- Let it Go. Stress management often means simply deciding to let things go. That doesn’t mean not dealing with it by pushing it aside, but actually letting go. Forgive the debt, decide to cut out unhealthy relationships, create a plan for your money and work it rather than spending every waking moment consumed with what you can’t control, recognize you may not be in a position to make the changes you would like to see at work and either accept it or find a new job. When you feel stress building ask yourself two questions. 1. On a scale of 1-10 how stressful is this event? Perhaps you’re facing a potential job layoff or it’s one of those trips to the grocery store when your toddler is throwing a fit in the checkout line, drawing attention from every side. You’re feeling stress at an eight or maybe even a 10. The second question is this: Twenty years from now, how stressful will you rate this same event on a scale of one to 10? Likely the answer is one. The point is that what seems overwhelming in the moment will likely pass, and soon. So don’t let it become part of your daily struggle, causing you health issues, sleepless nights, and pain.
Step 3 – Seek out Medical Help
Once you’ve identified the problem and taken steps to reduce your stress, think about incorporating the help of medical professionals. Seek out effective communication advice from a therapist. Consider whether antidepressants are a good option for you. And create a useful plan to treat physical ailments like neck and back pain that keep you from participating in the activities that bring you joy.
As part of your health team, the physical therapists at Encore Physical Therapy are here to support you in your efforts to reduce stress and feel your very best.