The effects of stress are well known on our mental and emotional wellbeing. However, an important side effect of excessive stress, that is often overlooked, is its impact physically on our bodies. That being said, stress and pain have a very close association with one another. In other words: stress causes pain AND pain causes stress.
Therefore, a huge component of pain relief is stress management. Our bodies tell our brains when we are in pain by sending signals through our nervous system. But, stress affects our nervous system too. The medical director of the Center for Pain Management at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Steven Stanos, DO, explains the only way we continue to function while in pain is due to our brain’s efforts of maintaining balance while receiving these pain signals. But unfortunately, when we’re stressed out our brain has a much more difficult time filtering through these signals and pain can increase. This stress-pain connection is something actively being researched but in the meantime it can be concluded that learning healthy ways to cope and minimize stress makes significant improvements in pain management.
Here are some ways to start combating that pain-increasing stress that no one wants:
Get Moving: You don’t need to buy a gym membership or sign up for a marathon to experience the stress-reducing effects of exercise. Actually, according to Harvard Medical School research, regular exercise of about 30-60 minutes most days of the week is one of the best avenues to manage stress. So get moving, get your heart rate up, and make sure to enjoy what you’re doing!
Take a Breather: Deep breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, has proven to aid in training the body and brain to turn off the stress response and, in turn, promote ample relaxation. The way this works is by turning down your sympathetic nervous system, which is the host of your fight-or-flight response, and activates your natural relaxation response from your parasympathetic nervous system. It’s much simpler than it sounds: Sit up straight with both of your feet on the floor. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. While you inhale through your nose feel your breath start in your abdomen and work up towards your head. Then exhale through your mouth by reversing the process, head to abdomen. If guided meditations work better for you, you can thank the University of Vermont for putting together the following resources to de-stress: http:// www.uvm.edu/~chwb/psych/?Page=exercises.htm
Sleep it Off: Studies have shown lack of sleep impacts our ability to handle everyday stressful situations. Some stress is inevitable in our day-to-day lives, but it is important to recognize the fact that the way we handle it impacts our bodies. Therefore, skipping out on restful sleep makes us less equipped to tackle our tasks without our body reaching for the panic button. It is recommended for adults to have 7-8 hours of sleep every night, if you are not meeting this quota it might be in your best interest to start rewarding yourself with a little more restoration.
Crank up the Tunes: Music therapy is not a new tool in the medical field. (The earliest known reference to it was in 1789!) Researchers at Stanford University have even said, “listening to music seems to be able to change brain functioning to the same extent as medication.” The University of Nevada has compiled a list of music to experiment with and see if you experience its stress reducing power: http://www.unr.edu/counseling/virtual-relaxation-room/releasing-stress- through-the-power-of-music
For more details about How Stress Affects Chronic Pain, (Click Here)
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