Hey YEG Fitness fam, do you remember vacations to bustling cities, packed sporting events, huge outdoor BBQs, and gratuitous amounts of high fives and hugs to everyone you know? Due to COVID-19 vacations are delayed, sports are almost gone unless you’re into watching high stakes online poker, a backyard BBQ is now eating ramen noodles over zoom, and high fives have been replaced by air fives. We have all had to make adjustments which, for many, can be very stressful and has been accompanied by changes in our physical health and well-being. There are many unique ways of dealing with additional stress and it is important to know that stress physiologically affects our bodies, making it of the utmost importance to address. Seeking treatment for the physical strain of stress can be just as important as dealing with a sprained ankle!
Chronic stress can physically affect your body by leading to increases in your resting blood pressure, damaging your arteries, muscle tension, tension headaches, general stiffness, heart burn, stomach and digestive issues, insomnia, weakened immune system and increased blood sugar levels. Pretty much all of the things that one grumpy uncle at your family reunion complains about can be the result of abnormal amounts of stress. Learning techniques to help decrease stress will greatly improve your overall health and will have you feeling happier than an Oilers playoff win! Found below is a short explanation of some physical strain of stress can manifest as and a cheat sheet for overcoming it at home.
Signs and symptoms that you are getting over stressed:
- Increased muscle tightness. When you are experiencing excessive stress you may notice tightness in your muscles, often showing up in your neck, jaw and base of your skull.
- Headaches. Stress can lead to different types of headaches such as tension headaches.
- Pain and swelling. You may find pain and swelling in your neck, low back and in other joints of your body.
- Numbness in certain areas of the body. Many of these symptoms will play into each other and management strategies will often try to address several at one time, if possible.
Well it’s all good to know what’s wrong, but how can you manage this at home? Try these techniques below to loosen things up, refocus and reset your body and mind to help manage the strain of stress and your body’s reaction to it!
Upper trap and levator scap stretches. This will help reduce tension in the neck, upper back and shoulders. Sit comfortably with straight posture, roll your shoulders back and grab under the chair on the right side. Now slowly lean your head towards the left shoulder, and use your left hand gently pull your head towards your shoulder to add some tension to the stretch. You should feel a stretch along the side of your neck, upper shoulder and upper back areas. Stop where the stretch feels comfortable and pain free and hold it for 30 seconds. When you feel satisfied with the stretch, then repeat this process on the other side
Breathing Exercises. When stress levels are high, your heart rate increases to meet the oxygen demands of your muscles as they prepare for a physically demanding situation. A simple exercise to perform anywhere is controlled breathing. To do this, get into a comfortable lying, sitting, or standing position, close your eyes and focus on lengthening your spine and rolling your shoulders back to have an open and relaxed posture. Next, bring your focus to your mouth and intentionally relax your jaw while keeping your mouth closed, relaxing the muscles of your face. Finally, start a slow inhale through the nose counting to 3, and exhale through the nose for another count of 3. As you master the art of deep breathing, increase the count to 4, 5 and 6 as you keep focus on your breathing (don’t try to get to 10, this isn’t a breath holding competition). This will help decrease your heart rate, returning you to a calm state reducing the strain of stress.
Grounding. Often your mind can start to wander and lead you to overthink. You start imagining scenarios and stress about possible outcomes. When you feel yourself starting to get in this cycle, stop and ground yourself. This is very easy, it’s simply focusing your attention on yourself and your surrounding in that very moment. To do this, use your 5 senses to focus on everything around you. Do you feel any tightness in your body? What can you smell? What do you hear? Are you sitting or standing? How does the chair feel? Can I press my feet firmly in the ground if I’m standing? What do you see? What do you taste? Is the smell of your favorite doughnut bakery wafting through the air? Take some time to connect back to your present self and where you are at that moment to help calm your mind and reduce the feeling of anxiety you were experiencing.
Do What You Love. When you start feeling overwhelmed with the strain of stress and it feels like you can’t focus on one particular task, go and do what makes you feel happy! This can be running, coffee with a friend, reading, listening to music, painting, hitting a punching bag, cooking, becoming an internet celebrity…there are endless possibilities! Get it out of your system so you can come back and refocus on yourself and your health.
Stress is a natural thing everyone experiences at some point. How you manage it becomes a vital part of taking care of your overall health. If there’s one thing we learned since the start of 2020 is that literally anything is possible, and we have to be ready to face whatever is thrown our way. Taking some time to assess your well-being and seeking help when you struggle to find the cause of your issues should be a priority. Sometimes a nagging issue needs to be fixed at the root by doing a bit of soul searching, identifying the stressors in your life, and finding the proper techniques to help you take control of your overall well-being. If you need some guidance tackling stress related physical ailments, as well as non-stress related issues, feel free to reach out to a local manual osteopath, and we can help make your chronic pain a thing of the past!
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