Yes, it’s December. For many people, the holiday season is the most stressful time of year. People are traveling for the holidays despite flight delays and hazardous road conditions. Money is tighter after getting gifts for our friends and family. The changes in weather mean less time outside… it’s a lot. For those who are also dealing with pain, whether from a new injury or a chronic issue, stress actually makes it that much harder to deal with an injury.
People are aware that stress impacts the body beyond just the feeling of stress, from increasing your blood pressure to altering hormone production. It’s is also known to have a strong impact on pain, including producing certain types of pain. A quick look at WebMD will show you a list of symptoms, including muscle aches, stomach pain and headaches.
There are reasons to admire the effect stress can have on us in short periods of time. Stress can actually reduce pain. If you’ve ever had a sudden injury you “worked through” and woke up the next day in a ton of pain, you understand the concept – think “running on adrenaline” to get something done despite an injury. Stress can allow us to do something without (hopefully) too much of a consequence. Once the activity is over, stress levels should decrease and the body can return to a resting state.
When stress levels remain high, that becomes a problem. The body’s internal route of managing pain is disrupted. This can mean that things that weren’t previously painful become painful, or that things that are already painful become more painful than normal. If someone is dealing with an ongoing injury, it might be worse than usual. A newer injury could last longer or even become chronic as a result of stress. So what do you do?
How do you manage stress so you can subsequently deal with your pain?
Here are a couple of stress tips to keep in mind:
- It’s is a personal experience – Stress is a normal occurrence. No matter how wealthy or healthy some is, they experience stress. Identifying the things that lead to your stress is a good place to start. Recognize that these are likely to be different for you than they are for your spouse, family, friends, etc. Your response to it will also likely differ. If you feel that stress increases your pain, knowing that can help you better manage your pain.
- Seek help – If you are regularly or constantly overwhelmed by stress, seek help. Psychologists, counselors, and psychiatrists are all trained to help you manage your stressors.
- Find your way to relieve it – You came to a physical therapy blog, so you’re going to hear about the benefits of exercise. Exercise, even something as simple as taking a 15-minute walk, can help reduce stress. Regular exercise is one of the most potent stress reducers, so pick something that you like and try that on a regular basis. Aim for 30 minutes for 5x a week. Things like swimming, walking/running, weight lifting, yoga, biking, and hiking are examples of great stress relievers. Pick something (or a few things!) and go for it. You might also consider other means such as meditation and deep breathing. Regular exercise followed up by relaxation techniques helps your body calm down more reliably.
Managing stress and pain is a complex process, but we all deal with it. If you’re struggling with pain and stress, seek out help. Physical therapy is an excellent choice for pain relief of those aches, sprains, and strains, but managing stress might require counseling/therapy.
***The above information, including text, images, and all other materials, is provided for educational purposes only, and not as a replacement or supplement to professional medical advice. Please contact a certified healthcare professional or your primary physician for any personal concerns.