If you’ve ever suffered from a tension headache, neck discomfort, or lower back pain, you know how much of an effect stress can have on the body. When we become stressed, our adrenaline rises, making us more likely to be on guard against what the body perceives as danger. When this stress happens, our muscles tense up as a reflex reaction. While the body does this as a way of protecting us against injury and pain, chronic tension in reaction to stress has the opposite effect.
Chronic stress causes the body to be in a frequent state of alertness, which in turn causes our muscles to be tense and taut for extended periods of time. This can trigger other reactions in the body and may even lead to disorders or disease. These reactions may include tension headaches and migraines, a tight and tender jaw, cramps in the stomach and back, and digestive issues, among others. If not treated, the muscle tension leading to aches causes us more stress and perpetuates the cycle. It can also lead to other issues such as irritability, fatigue, and depression.
While millions of people suffer from chronic pain due to daily stresses, in some cases, the tension in our muscles may be the result of an injury. It’s important that this injury is treated properly in order to keep it from turning into a chronic condition. Some may react by avoiding physical activity for fear of pain or reinjury, however, disuse of the body only increases muscle tension and atrophy. The best way to recover from an injury is to maintain a moderate level of activity that’s been recommended by a physician. Relaxation techniques, massage, and acupuncture may also be particularly helpful during this time.
To help manage your stress, reduce muscle tension, and eliminate chronic pain, follow these five tips:
Get enough sleep: Between seven and eight hours a night is ideal for making us less vulnerable to the stress that can cause headaches and digestive issues.
Eat a healthy diet: Eat plenty of fresh produce, fiber, and lean protein, and drink at least eight glasses of water a day. Avoid too much caffeine, which can interfere with sleep.
Exercise: At least 30 minutes of exercise a day triggers the production of endorphins that help us relax and combat stress.
Meditate: 20 minutes of daily meditation has been shown to reduce the severity of muscle tension by 28 percent and feelings of anxiety by 44 percent. Other relaxation techniques such as yoga and deep breathing may also be helpful.
Get a massage: Regular massage will not only release tension in the muscles, but improve a sense of calm and well-being that can counteract stress long after the massage is over.
If you’re feeling the pain of stress, schedule an appointment with one of our licensed massage therapists, who can design a custom plan for your specific needs.