The fast-paced, constantly on-the-go lifestyle common to American culture these days exposes us to an increasing amount of daily stress. 8 out of 10 Americans are afflicted by stress and 1 in 5 American adults have at least one diagnosed anxiety disorder. Stress is a normal and important part of life, and in healthy doses, it motivates us to take action to improve our well-being (i.e. putting on a sweatshirt when you're cold or leaving a social situation when you feel uncomfortable). However when stress is excessive and not properly managed, it leads to increased levels of the stress hormone coritsol in our blood.
In the short term cortisol has an anti-inflammatory and pain relieving effect, but prolonged exposure can actually lead to increased inflammation, muscle tension, and sensitivity to pain. Thus, stress is a major trigger for conditions such as neck pain, headaches, TMJ, and other chronic pain syndromes. Other negative health effects of prolonged exposure to cortisol include elevated blood sugar, poor sleep, impaired memory, decreased immunity, increased tissue healing time, water retention, weight gain, and in some cases serrious hormonal disorders such as diabetes or Cushing's syndrome. Fortunately, there are many techniques that you can perform on your own in order to better manage stress. Most of these strategies fall under the category of mindfulness. Mindfulness is defined as "the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis." Research shows that mindfulness can improve psychological factors of chronic pain relating to depression, anxiety, and quality of life. Some forms of mindfulness include deep breathing, meditation, gratitude journaling, and mindful walking. For a brief summary of some of these stress management techniques, read our post on mindfulness. Additionally, some people find having a massage helpful to relax their muscles and nerves.
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At More 4 Life, we can help you explore these strategies as well as others to find the ones that work best for you.