Pain and stress are connected. When you are in pain, you are less able to handle life stressors. Common hassles become major obstacles. Stress causes you to tense your muscles, grit your teeth, or stiffen your shoulders. Pain causes stress; stress increases pain.
Stress may be relieved by a well-balanced lifestyle focused as much as possible on productive or enjoyable activity and away from illness and pain. Learning to communicate assertively helps relieve stress and helps resist negative emotions such as anger, helplessness and depression. Setting reasonable goals, allowing adequate time to accomplish them, and rewarding yourself afterward may prevent you from feeling overwhelmed by the presence of pain.
Although major stresses are beyond our control, many minor stresses are within our control. For instance, if you think your bedroom is drab and dull, you might decide to brighten it up with flowers or a colorful picture on the wall. Setting aside time for enjoyable activities is also important, especially if those activities help you relax. Time management skills can help relieve stress. If you have a hobby or interest, pursuing it will help prevent the focus on pain, inactivity, and isolation.
HOW WE RESPOND TO STRESS
When an individual encounters stress, his or her body responds in the “fight-or-flight” mode. This results from the release of hormones that cause the body to shift into overdrive with faster heart rate, increased blood pressure, faster and more shallow breathing, tightened muscles, and increased perspiration.
- Positive stress = Excitement and opportunity. Examples of positive stress situations include athletic competition, a new job, or the birth of a child.
- Negative stress = Out of control or under constant or intense pressure. The individual may have trouble concentrating, or may feel alone. Common causes of negative stress include family, finances, work, isolation, or health problems including pain.
FACTORS THAT TRIGGER STRESS
Stress is often associated with situations or events that an individual finds difficult to handle. How things are viewed also affects a person’s level of stress.
- Unforeseen events Internal factors
- Unrealistic or high expectations
- Negative attitudes and feelings
- Irresponsible behavior
- Poor health habits
Do the three P’s – prioritize, plan, and pace yourself.
The following techniques can help to reduce those sources of stress you can control and to cope better with those that you cannot control.
- Plan your day — This can help you to feel more in control. Consider keeping a written schedule of your daily activities so you are not faced with conflicts or rushing to make an appointment on time. Because pain can flare up at any time, have a backup plan; decide what you can manage now and what can wait until later.
- Simplify your schedule — Delegate responsibility to others at home and at work. Say no to added responsibilities if you are not up to doing them. And, you should not feel guilty if you are not productive every waking moment.
- Get organized — Organize your home and work space so that you know where things are and can reach them easily.
- Take occasional breaks — Relax, stretch, or walk periodically during the day.
- Exercise regularly —This helps to loosen your muscles and to relieve your emotional intensity.
- Get enough sleep — Going to sleep and waking at a consistent time can give you the energy you need to face each day.
- Eat well — Eating a variety of foods provides the right mix of nutrients to keep your body’s systems working well.
- Change the pace — Break out of your routine and explore new territory occasionally.
- Be positive — People with a positive outlook have a sense of humor and do not take themselves seriously Laughter helps to ease pain.
- Stay connected — Recognize that you need the support and occasional help of family and friends.
- Be patient
Improvements in your health may take time. You can help reduce anxiety and stress by acknowledging this.
Source: Prairie Spine and Pain Institute, Dr. Richard A. Kube II, MD.