Stress affects us whether we like it or not. It might get us down or zap our energy. It might even make us more angry. At our clinics we see daily evidence that stress affects us physically too.
Most of us have good strategies for dealing with it. Physical type people like myself might like to do their favourite sport. Perhaps you like to read, sit or meditate. Maybe you’re one of those rare few people who don’t get stressed. Or maybe you’re deluded you’re one those!
Stress affects all of us. We just don’t realise how much and in what ways. The affect of long term stress on overall health is well documented. But not the impact on our aches and pains. Over the past 13 years we’ve helped countless people recover from long term injuries by helping them with the physical and psychological issues that hold them back.
We present to you the benefit of our experience. Please enjoy and debate our stress busting tips below. Many of them are common sense. Some of them are little more obscure. Put them all together you’ve got a really useful toolbox of stress busters to keep you happy and sane even in the toughest times – and hopefully feeling less pain too.
1. Stand Like Wonder Woman!
There I said it. I thought I’d start with a bombshell to get your attention. Now I will admit this sounds completely crazy but it’s scientific fact. For those of you who have 20 minutes to spare have a watch the very entertaining presentation here I will explain the salient points.
The science breaks down like this. 2 groups of people. Both told they would be interviewed. The interview panel was instructed to absolutely grill them. Both groups have a swab saliva test before the interview to check for stress hormones: adrenaline and cortisol.
The test group also have swab saliva tests done after the 2 minutes standing like wonder woman. The results? After just two minutes the stress hormones were diminished. The results of the interview? The people who had stood like wonder woman were consistently better in interview than those who hadn’t! Why? Stand confidently and you will be confident.
2. Do The Things You Love
Patently obvious you would think? But in times of stress we tend to miss out on the stuff we enjoy doing and focus on the sensible things. The stuff we feel we ‘have’ or ‘should’ do. If we end up doing the things we feel we should and none of things that we want to it zaps our energy at best and at worst can lead to ongoing mental health issues.
Our regular readers will fully understand the link between the emotional and physical. If you missed our previous pain post check here for an understanding of this connection. When we don’t do the things that keep us sane and happy we become less sane and less happy. Stands to reason. Longer term this can lead to depression, fatigue and contribute to a wide variety of pain syndromes.
If you’re interested in this differentiation of things we want to do and things we feel we need to do then you’ll be interested in the book Self Parenting. It talks about those inner conversations that go on in our head between our sensible side – the inner parent – and our fun loving side – the inner child. It’s very useful when you can tune into what’s going on in your head to help make more sense of it.
3. Keep Active!
We all know it. Or at least I hope we do. Exercise releases endorphins our happy hormone which make us feel good. Exercise means different things to different people. For me it means swimming or running or volleyball. There’s a sense of freedom in each of those for me. For you exercise might be walking to the shops or doing some gardening. It doesn’t matter what it is so long as it involves movement and it makes you feel good.
Even the smallest amount can help. With clients in a lot of pain we focus on what they can do not what they can’t. When you’re stressed out or in pain it’s important not to give up on exercise completely but to focus and do what you can. Schedule the time you do it into your diary. In pen, not pencil! It needs to be an immovable event in your weekly routine.
4. Work On Yourself
Anyone out there claiming not to have any baggage? I didn’t think so. Life happens and it leaves us with emotional scars which affect our response to stress and anxiety. We’re not going to turn stress heads into zen masters but if we can all take action to reduce out stress levels. Whether that be life changes or working on our old issues.
There are countless self help books out there. You might have a favourite one. You may be in denial and have never read any. The industry exists for a reason. CBT has been the treatment of choice for some time. For those not in the know it simply stands for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy – simply put – change the way we think.
It’s a massive subject. The For Dummies book on the subject is a fantastic overview of it. You will find lots of interesting ideas and exercises. You may find something in those pages or you may find a reference for further reading of something which strikes a chord. Get involved. It’s good for you.
For those of you of a more fluffy disposition I recommend “Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway.” A cheesy 80s self help classic. I challenge anyone, even the most bitter and cynical, not to find something inspiring within it’s pages.
Mindfulness is particularly fashionable at the moment. As a gross over simplification it teaches us to appreciate life for what it is. Not to sweat the small stuff and better enjoy the journey that is life. There is after all only one inevitable conclusion. It’s important to enjoy our time here.
Generally speaking life is better when we breath. If we stop breathing bad things start to happen! Dropping dead aside. If we don’t breath well this will affect the amount of oxygen going into our bodies right? Stands to reason. Oxygen makes muscles work. If we have less oxygen muscles don’t work as well and they get tired quicker, tighten up and give us pain.
Equally we don’t get as much oxygen to the brain and it doesn’t work so well. To think better and get more oxygen to our muscles we can use breathing as a fantastic relaxation exercise. Anyone who’s done any yoga will be well aware of this. Turns out those yogi aren’t just a bunch of hippies after all.
The diaphragm, the main muscles of breathing, has a huge role to play in muscle function throughout the body. Not just for drawing down the lungs. We regularly clear people’s back pain, neck pain, knee pain, foot pain (you name it) simply by getting their diaphragm to work more efficiently. This should be motivation for you.
Try laying on your back, inhaling through your nose and inflating your stomach. There should be minimal movement in the rib cage and elsewhere for pure diaphramatic breathing. However, as this is a relaxation exercise, cut yourself some slack and go with what feels comfortable. Just focus on breathing in and out for a few minutes. You know when you get it right as the thoughts in your head start to slow down and you start to become relaxed!
It is quite normal to feel a bit light headed during this exercise. This is what oxygen can do to you. But don’t get carried away. We don’t want you hyper ventilating!
My recommendation is to use this breathing exercise to relax whenever it suits. Make it part of your daily routine. In the morning to set you up for the day. When you get home after a tough day at work. Or last thing before bed to unwind from the day behind you and help you get to sleep.
For those of you who are more sports focused and think what I’ve just spoken about is a bunch of tree hugging hippy rubbish take a look at some of the finest sports people in history. Many of them take a deep breath preparing for something very important to get them more relaxed to perform at their best. A golfer taking a final putt to win a tournament, picture David Beckham about to take a free kick focus on his breathing. Jonny Wilkinson about to take an important penalty, a boxer getting up off the canvas and recovering.
6. Take Some Downtime
Who genuinely makes time to have to themselves every day? When we simply spend a few minutes relaxing and looking after ourselves. The curse of modern life means that very few of us even think about relaxing, never mind doing it. Some of my clients look at me as if I’m insane for suggesting that they find a mere 30 minutes each day to spend relaxing. It’s as if I’d just asked them scale the Empire State Building.
If we don’t have time to relax and recover from our busy lives our system continues to get increasingly sensitised. Simply put we feel everything going on more. If you need to go on holiday to get some downtime. Make sure you book plenty of them!
7. Lay Off The Caffeine
Caffeine is a neuro-stimulator which means we just feel what’s going on in our bodies more. More caffeine, more sensitivity. Less caffeine, less sensitivity.
8. You Are Not An Island
Don’t be too proud to admit you need help. We all do. Don’t keep ploughing on hoping things will get better when they never do. Whether that’s some deep seated psychological issue or whether that’s a minor injury you’ve been meaning to sort out for ages (see what I did there?!). There are people out there who can help you.
Friends, family, professionals can all be there to help. Seek their help rather than ploughing a lonely furrow. There’s a Ted Talk link just here to a fabulous talk about opening up to vulnerability and how that can help you. It’s 20 minutes long so I suggest you finish this article first.
If you haven’t got 20 minutes to spare in your day, you didn’t read item 6 did you!
9. Put The Mobile Phone Down!
The smart phone. The worst device in the history of existence for eating into downtime. Don’t get me wrong. Amazing piece of kit. We’d all be lost without them. But how many times do you sit at the other end of the sofa to your partner and not speak all evening? At least if you’re watching mindless TV you can have a conversation about what you’re watching.
If beeps. It flashes. Alerts for this that and everything. Little red boxes to tell us how many things we haven’t looked at yet – for someone who is a completer finisher like myself this is a real problem! Constantly demanding our attention to the detriment of friends and family closest to us.
Social media and the ability to keep in touch with emails is pretty much an essential part of modern day life. But, we need some time away from it. To recover and relax. For example. I try not to use my phone after 10pm. I also don’t check any email at weekends.
Give yourself little rules like these to give yourself chance to switch off.
Let’s be positive. Stress is a good thing. We all need a bit of stress to get us out of bed in the mornings. We are actually very adept at dealing with stress. But it’s long term stress without any breaks that causes us the most problems. We all have the ability to ease the stress on ourselves. No matter how busy our lives.
At our clinics we normally see it in the form of chronic injuries or pain conditions that seem to have no real reason to be there in the first place. Or old injuries that never seem to heal or go away. We may view these as entirely physical issues. However, in our experience these conditions are at least in part down to the pressure we put ourselves.
Back in cave man days we had larger stresses. The fear of starvation, of survival, finding somewhere warm and safe. But we had the time to relax. Modern life is like Chinese water torture in terms of constant smaller amounts of stress. It just doesn’t stop. We all need to find strategies to turn the water off. Enjoy some quiet. Your mind and body will thank you.
Happily this is my last Blog before heading off on holidays! I will be getting significantly less stressed over the coming weeks. I hope these tips help you to achieve the same. Or barring that just book a holiday!