Even if it is not visible to the common eye, an overwhelming amount of people experience stress on a day-to-day basis. Stress is not only a “feeling,” it’s actually a body’s physiologic response to a threat. This response often includes an increase in cortisol and adrenaline in the blood stream. It also constricts blood vessels and causes an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. Chronic stress fuels these types of reactions and can cause both physical and psychological health issues.
Back and Neck Pain
Back and neck pain are some of the most common symptoms of stress. When stressed, many people subconsciously tighten their neck and or/back muscles, causing tension and discomfort. This leads to headaches and migraines. Stress causes psycho-physiological pain, which manifests itself in different areas of the body. Psycho-physiological pain is a very real, physical symptom produced by emotional or psychological upset. Certain stretches can help relieve these tense, sore muscles. Daily stretches that target the lower back and hips can both alleviate discomfort and build muscle to prevent future pain. Cold and warm compresses are also effective tools that alleviate pain.
Anxiety and Depression
The body frequently presents these two psychological manifestations of stress simultaneously. Exercise is a valuable contributor to good mental health. Physical activity creates endorphins, which improve peoples’ moods and help dull the body’s perception of pain. Exercising also helps people focus on a single task, which encourages mindfulness in other aspects of life as well.
Stress causes a spike in the hormone cortisol, which, over time, increases the amount of fat that is stored in the abdomen. Stress also leads to comfort eating and triggers over indulgence in food and alcohol. It is important to identify and address what factors are contributing to stress. Therapy and exercise are great treatment options.
Chronic heartburn and Irritable Bowel Syndrome are common gastrointestinal problems associated with stress. Symptoms include: diarrhea, nausea, constipation and cramps. Long-term stress can even weaken the immune system. GI problems can be addressed with constant hydration, rest and foods that are easy to digest like bananas, bread and rice. To avoid further exacerbating the discomfort caused by heartburn and IBS, be wary of foods that are high in fat.
It is impossible to completely eliminate stressors, but stress management is important to your overall health. To successfully manage stress, be sure to incorporate exercise, stretches, proper sleep habits and communication with your doctor.
Author Bio: Emma is a freelance writer living in Boston. When not writing, she enjoys reading, baking, and indoor rock climbing. Informational Credit for this article to Alberta Back and Neck Rehab and Sports Injury Clinic.