This early November will feature National Stress Awareness Day, observed since 2018 as a means to destigmatize mental and physical stress sources and help spread awareness around stress-related conditions, the effects of stress on our daily lives, and much more. Yet one underexplored facet of stress is how it affects our ability to function and how we experience pain, sadness, anxiety, and other emotions. Physical and mental stress can immediately impact existing pain, especially chronic pain – and learning to mediate and manage your stress levels can, in turn, help you cut down on pain and improve your quality of life.
The Connection Between Stress and Pain
In its modern sense, stress has only been defined for about a century. In that time, we have learned that both external and internal stressors can affect the mind and body, resulting in symptoms of excess stress across multiple diseases and conditions. An overstimulated sympathetic nervous system, fatigued adrenal glands, and a weakened immune system – are just some of the physical results of excessive stress.
They can affect how and when the body feels pain. In the same way, being depressed physically affects our pain reception, stress, and anxiety can worsen chronic pain conditions like arthritis and slow the recovery from acute injuries and post-surgical pain. Affecting and managing your stress levels is crucial, whether recovering from an injury or struggling with a long-term pain problem. Here are a few essential tips to start with and kick off International Stress Awareness Day:
Boost Physical Activity
One of the most effective and reliable stress busters is movement. It doesn’t need to be a lot of activity – even a 15-minute program, with a few bodyweight exercises or a few minutes on the treadmill or exercise bike, can have an immediate effect on your physical (and consequently, your mental) stress levels. Consider creating a quick home workout plan if you’re feeling agitated or anxious. You don’t need machines to start – most bodyweight exercises only need an exercise mat to catch any sweat. If your cardio options are limited, and you’re not in the mood to head outdoors, consider skipping rope.
Purchase a Fidget Spinner
It doesn’t have to be a fidget spinner. But research does tell us that doing anything with our hands can provide immediate and noticeable stress relief. Physical puzzles – from sliding puzzles to puzzle cubes – also make for an excellent little distraction and a way to take a mental break from stress. Think popping bubble wrap, playing with a spinning toy, or even buying a dedicated tactile keychain, such as those metal sliders or so-called fidget clickers. Stress balls, slime, and clay are a few other choice examples.
Utilize Self-Massage Equipment
If you aren’t sure where or how to knead your body into relief, then you still have a few other options for reliable self-massage. Massage guns are excellent for getting started, especially if you tend to get tight around the neck and shoulders and experience frequent tension headaches. Relieving tension in the shoulders can do a lot to help you calm down between stressful meetings or tasks.
If you aren’t willing to shell out the cash for a massage gun, there’s always a tennis ball, lacrosse ball, or a dedicated massage ball. Use these against a wall to knead tight or painful spots along your back and shoulders for instant and lasting relief. Good points to try and focus on include between the shoulder blades, between the edge of your shoulder and your shoulder blade, the sides of your neck, close to your armpit, and lower down the middle of your back, along either side of your spine.
We’re not all rhythmically inclined, but that doesn’t mean you can’t just take a few minutes to move to the beat. Whether you prefer to do so in private or invite a friend or family member, consider taking a break now and again to play some of your favorite tunes and shake your body. Bang your head. Wave your arms. Dance like no one’s watching – because it feels good and is a great and proven way to quickly relieve stress. Don’t worry if dancing isn’t for you! Some people don’t like to dance, whether around others or completely solo. That’s fine – there are plenty of other options to try.
Use Essential Oils
No, there isn’t any extraordinary power in essential oils – but aromatherapy is a proven way to relieve stress in the short term. Research tells us that people experience a calming effect when smelling certain scents. Consider an investment in a humidifier in your main office or home office and a lineup of scents you’re comfortable with. A few good ones to try include bergamot, lavender, and jasmine.
Improve Sleep Hygiene
Few things are as crucial for a healthy stress response as being well-rested, both physically and mentally. Yet it can be challenging for some people to get a good night’s rest, especially if they’ve struggled with sleep issues for a long time. Consider taking the time to see a sleep specialist or visit a sleep clinic to identify and address your specific sleep issues. Some of the more common reasons people struggle to get good quality sleep include:
- Caffeine overuse;
- Poor sleep hygiene;
- Late-night screen time;
- Lack of physical activity;
- Undiagnosed sleep apnea.
Aside from seeing a professional, a few things you can do to improve your quality of sleep immediately include keeping the room cool at night, achieving close to total darkness, avoiding screens an hour before bed, and staying away from the bed when not sleeping.
Observing National Stress Awareness Day in 2022 and Beyond
Managing your stressors is integral to long-term pain management, especially if you have chronic health issues or pain conditions such as arthritis. Thankfully, there is a lot you can do to mediate how stress impacts your life and your pain levels – and with the proper support, you can significantly improve your quality of life. Start working with pain management professionals today, and identify ways to get the most out of life.