Managing symptoms of stress in chaotic times
During the past year of abounding stress, ever-changing plans and added responsibilities, you may have noticed some physical changes in your body. Maybe you have gained weight while staying home, or you have a constant feeling of tightness in your chest (that’s anxiety and is a normal part of being human). You may have a nagging headache that just won’t go away.
Our bodies are good at dealing with short-term stressors. In fact, stress can be helpful – it can, for example, motivate you to complete a task prior to a deadline.
But these long-term strains to our system can add up and produce lasting changes such as increased blood pressure, fatigue, insomnia and muscle tension. Chronic muscle tension can lead to headaches, which can cause impaired ability to think, concentrate and care for yourself and others.
Here are a few ways you can manage your stress and decrease the frequency of those nagging headaches.
Take a breath
Never underestimate the power of one deep breath.
By taking a slow, deep breath through your nose, and exhaling even more slowly through your mouth, you can depress your parasympathetic nervous system (your fight or flight response). This will trigger your muscles to relax and will slow your pulse.
Doing this throughout the day can even help to lower your blood pressure. While you exhale, try focusing on the position of your shoulders. If they are creeping up towards your ears, gently relax them as you exhale.
Take a walk
Cardiovascular exercise is key for managing stress. The more your body moves, the more your body produces endorphins (happy hormones). Simultaneously, exercise decreases the hormones that cause that feeling of stress.
Try walking around the house every hour and get outside for some fresh air at least once per day. Set a goal for 10 minutes of movement. If it’s hard to find the motivation, have your family join you or plan to walk with a friend or neighbor to make it fun.
Check your posture
Have you been spending more time sitting in your home office working, or on the couch binging shows? It’s possible that you have shifted into a less-than-ideal head position.
Check to be sure that your screen is at a height where you don’t have to look up or down. Roll your shoulders back and keep them relaxed while you type. Hold your phone on your lap using pillows to adjust for height. Tuck your chin slightly to keep a neutral head position.
Set a timer (try every 20-30 minutes) for frequent posture checks throughout the day to bring awareness.
Ask for help
If the stress of living in a pandemic is making you feel bad, talk with your doctor about your symptoms. If you suffer from increased headaches and/or neck pain, ask for a referral to physical therapy. There are hands-on techniques and exercises that can significantly reduce tension headaches and neck pain.
Living with chronic stress can certainly take its toll, but your healthcare team can be highly effective in helping you get on the right track for a healthy and happy future.
Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System offers a wide variety of services for you and your family, including the physical therapy assistance. Visit SpartanburgRegional.com for more information.