Take a moment to think back to the past few days. Your partner might have done something to irritate you or something at work has become stressful. Perhaps you might have simply woken up and felt sad.
Can you remember how it made you feel physically?
Mental suffering, just like physical pain, is a stressor — a force that can interrupt the health in our body. Some stress is essential, allowing us to grow and develop, but some, such as relentless work pressure, has the same effect on the body as a perpetual low grade kick to the shin.
Almost all the patients that I see in clinic, though they seek treatment for a physical problem such as back pain, also have problems that have been caused or affected by their mental state.
The truth is happy people don’t tend to get back pain.
I could prattle on about how you should sit, sleep or stand to help you cope better with neck or back pain, but there is nothing more important to address than the nemeses of stress and worry.
Carrying disproportionate emotion, like anxiety, around can completely change the way that we move. You only have to look at people around you — at work, college, on the bus or on the tube — to get some idea about how they might be feeling.
Stressed or worried people tend to appear heavier – as if they are carrying around a weight of emotion or they might appear physically hyper- alert like they drank 6 coffess in a row.
Let’s face it, life isn’t easy but we all know the serious implications that long-term stress and worry have on your physical health.
Long-term stress is draining for our bodies.
Mental problems tend to grip the body like a constant vice. Like squeezing your fist for a long time, stress feels uncomfortable.
Because the muscles are the vehicles of our emotions, the more stress we put ourselves under, the bigger the impact it has on our body. That is why back and neck pain and headaches are more frequent when we are under pressure.
We are much less likely to get damaged by stress if we have healthier bodies. Like a riverbed widens to accommodate a faster flowing river, content people accommodate stress by literally creating ‘space’ to buffer its impact.
There are two ways to minimise the physical impact of stress. You either disconnect yourself from the stressful situation, like pulling a plug out of its socket, or you buffer your body against the impact of stress.
Unfortunately, many of us are unable to de-plug ourselves completely from the pressure in our life. The most we can do is to reduce it. We may not be able to change our job or our spouses, but we can work less ridiculous hours, and put less pressure on ourselves in the first place.
Option two is much easier to apply without having to make too many drastic changes to our life. We can buffer stress by dissipating it through movement or physically accommodate worry through learning to relax.
To help disperse stress we need to move.
- If you sit down for most of the day, get up every hour. Dance, stretch, climb some stairs, briskly walk a circuit of the office or the house
- Exchange your seat at work or at home for an exercise ball for at least two days of the week. A mobile-seated posture is better than a static one.
- Spend either part of your lunch break or time after work doing something active. This might be a brief walk or something a bit more ambitious.
- Breathing is synonymous with relaxing. See previous blog for some simple exercises.
- Maintain routine — keep moving. Stress won’t accumulate in your muscles so severely.
- Spend just five minutes each day relaxing your body, then you will also learn to relax your mind. All you have to do is play dead. Lie on your back with your arms away from your body and your legs slightly apart. This is not called ‘the corpse pose’ in yoga for no reason.
If the going gets too tough…Minor anxieties and worries can become major problems. There is absolutely no shame in asking for some help.
If you suffer from stress, worry, depression or anxiety that is beyond your control, ask someone for some help.
Your doctor might be a good point of contact or confide in a good friend. Never suffer in silence, though you might hide your problems from others, your body will continue to hold your distress.
Any questions, just ask.