Within the past several weeks, we have encountered an unprecedented shift in our daily lives.  This is causing all of us to feel quite frankly, stressed out.  While it is hard during difficult times to remain calm and not stress, it is something we should make an effort to do.  Why?  Because aches and pains can result from increased levels of stress.  Continue reading to learn simple and fun ways to reduce stress and how physical therapy can help.

What is stress?

During more normal times, one study found that 33% of adults experienced high levels of stress.  Stress is defined as a “state of mental or emotional strain caused by adverse circumstances.”  Due to our current situation, in dealing with the Coronavirus, it is safe to say that the number of adults experiencing stress has dramatically increased.  The effect of stress can be seen in many ways.  But the good news is that there are many simple ways to reduce stress.

Signs and Symptoms of Stress

It is important to note that there can be many factors, apart from stress that lead to these symptoms.  You can read more about the most common causes of back pain in my post, “Is Sciatica a Lifelong Condition.”  But studies have shown that stress is associated in some level with these symptoms.  Here are some of the most common ways stress can show up on our bodies:

  • Headaches: Stress can contribute to headaches, a pain in your head or neck region.  A recent study found that a stressful event preceded the development of headaches in about 45% of cases and an increase in the number of days they experienced headaches.
  • Chronic Pain: Stress is also a contributing factor to chronic aches and pains.  Stress can induce chronic back and neck pain.  Studies have shown that people with chronic back pain had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol found in their hair.  This means that those people in the study had been experiencing high levels of stress for a prolonged period of time.
  • Decreased Energy and Sleeplessness:  Stress can have you feeling tired, and give you that blah feeling.  According to many studies, fatigue is a strong indicator that you are experiencing high levels of stress.  Not being able to sleep, insomnia, is another sign you may be stressed.  Sleeplessness can cause you to feel fatigued during the day.
  • Changes in Digestions and Appetite:  During stressful events people may develop diarrhea or constipation, especially in people that may already have issues with digestion such as irritable bowel syndrome.  Stress has also shown to change  a person’s appetite, often either finding themselves with no appetite at all or constantly eating without being hungry, which is why I have visited my fridge and pantry for random snacks while I write this.

Of course, there may be other contributing factors to these symptoms.  But studies have shown that somehow stress is associated in the development of these symptoms.  Physical therapy can help.  The Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association, reported that chronic neck pain sufferers who underwent 8 physical therapy sessions in conjunction with 8 stress management sessions, saw a reduction in neck pain disability.

How Can Advance Physical Therapy Specialists Help?

Advance Physical Therapy Specialists is here for you to treat chronic back and neck pain.  We understand that at this time, many of you are staying home.  To ensure that while you are home, you are still receiving the care you need, we are extending our services to include TeleHealth.  TeleHealth is a video conference session where we assess your functional level and work on corrective exercises to increase mobility and decrease pain all while you are in the comfort of your own home.  To schedule your TeleHealth appointment, you can reach us at (305) 433-1172 and let us help.

In the meantime, read a little more to learn some simple and fun ways to reduce stress that will get you on the road to feeling better.

Simple and Fun Ways to Reduce Stress

There are many ways for us to reduce the stress we are feeling.  Stress as I mentioned, can increase pain.  So giving your body, mind, and soul a positive outlet for that stressful energy can reduce stress hormone levels like cortisol. Here are just a few simple, but effective and fun ways to reduce stress:

Move Your Body  

Exercising lowers your body’s stress hormones, such as cortisol, and it releases endorphins which help to make you feel good, by improving your mood and acting as a natural painkiller.  Here are some simple and fun ways to reduce stress by moving your body:

    • Walk around the block.  You can go for a morning or evening walk or both, since we seem to have quite a bit of free time on our hands.
    • Go for a quick jog or run.  My wife and I really enjoy running.  We both blast music on our headphones and she likes to track her runs using the Nike App.
    • Try an online exercise video or app. You can stream stream exercises online and some are offering free online classes you can do right at your living room, like our community partner Mike Causadias at MFitnessGym (IG: @_m_fitnesss).
    • Put on your favorite music and dance.  Dancing to your favorite music is such a great way to relieve stress.  My wife is dancing ballet to NYCB dancer Tiler Peck’s free ballet class on Instagram (IG: @tilerpeck).  Not to mention, if you have teen daughters like we do, you can show them your famous party dance moves, which will absolutely terrify them.
    • Practice daily stretching.  Stretching can be both relaxing and energizing at the same time.  It can release the tension in your muscles while also warming them up and building energy throughout your body.
    • Do Physical Therapy.   As we mentioned earlier, Advanced Physical Therapy Specialists is extending our service to include TeleHealth, so in the comfort of your home, you can be treated by me with corrective exercises that will increase your mobility, decrease pain and I promise it’ll be a simple and fun way to reduce stress and most importantly, your chronic back and neck pain.

Set the Mood

That’s right…light your favorite candles or use essential oils, play relaxing music, and read a book.  They may help to reduce your feelings of stress.

    • Light candles and essential oils. Some scents are more calming than others.  If there’s one thing I have learned though is that not everyone likes the same scents.  At least, that’s the case at home.  But the most common relaxing scents are: lavender, vanilla, chamomile, and rose.
    • Play calming music.   Music can calm and help to lower your stress levels.  Get your favorite streaming service and look up relaxing music playlists.
    • Read a book.  Turn off the TV, reduce the amount of screen time you have by setting a time to unplug and read a good book.  Many of us have that random book we bought and haven’t read lying around the house somewhere.  Dust it off, and give it a chance.  Your brain and body will thank you and you will feel a sense of relaxation.

Journal

One way to reduce stress is to put it on paper.  Journaling is different for everyone.  Journaling isn’t just simple and fun way to reduce stress, but it is also a creative outlet for your feelings.  Just grab some paper, or an old notebook, and a pen.  Or open up your laptop.

    • Let it out. You can write about what is stressing you out and let it out on paper.
    • An attitude of gratitude.You can start a gratitude journal and write about what you are grateful for
    • Spark joy. You can make a list of things that bring you joy.
    • Art journal. You can make an art journal and use paints and other mixed media.
    • Get creative.  Write a song or a poem.

Follow Your Passions

We can reduce stress by allowing ourselves to follow our passions.  If you’ve always wanted to learn to write poetry, to dance, to play guitar the internet offers a variety of classes and videos for us to learn more about what we’re passionate about.  In a normal situation, we could go to a group class.  But there are many options online, we like MasterClass Online.  It has a lot of different classes, including cooking.  So with this free time, learn a little more about your passions or pick up a new skill and who knows it may turn out to be something you’re passionate about.  Another simple and fun way to reduce stress, is to share what you’re passionate about with other people, it could be members of your family through FaceTime or you can share with the world through YouTube.  Both learning more about what fuels your passion or sharing your passion with someone else, are a great, simple and fun way to reduce stress.

Check Off Your To-Do List

This is an unconventional , but some would still say it is a simple and fun way to reduce some stress.  But checking off items off of your to-do list gives you a really good feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day.  This past weekend we worked on our garden and moved some plants around, and trimmed hedges that were looking a little tall.  It was an outdoor activity, we moved, we were with nature.  It was quite fun and while it was work, it was also relaxing.  So here’s a list of some unconventional “fun” ways to release stress (hey, some people like this!):

    • Get organized.  That’s right.  Whether you do your pantry, your closet, or your pile of mail.  Getting things organized does relieve stress.
    • Clean.  Clean out the fridge or do some spring cleaning.  Some people really enjoy cleaning.
    • Gardening or Yard work.  Get down and dirty and work with the plants in your yard.
    • Marie Kondo Your Home.  I’m not an expert on the KonMari method, but decluttering your home and keeping the items that spark joy actually sounds fun.  Plus it’s a great way to have items to donate.  At the very least, you can binge watch Tidying Up on Netflix.

Nourish Your Body

During times of stress, it is very easy to either overeat or not eat at all.  So it’s important to make a conscious effort to feed our bodies nourishing foods and to stay hydrated.  This may sound a tad boring, but if you read the last two bullet points, you’ll see that nourishing our body can be a fun and simple way to reduce stress.

    • Stay hydrated.  While at home, make sure you are drinking enough water.  A quick tip to remembering to drink enough water, is to refill your glass of water right after your last sip of water.  So you always have your glass full.
    • Eat healthy.  Make sure that you are eating enough veggies and fruit daily.  There are so many nutrients found in vegetables, and including them in every meal is a sure way to get all the vitamins and minerals we need to fuel our body.
    • Treat yo’ self. That said, it is also ok to have a delicious treat too.  Don’t be too strict with yourself.  Your inner child will thank you!  Have a little ice cream or cookies for dessert.
    • Have fun cooking.  Try new recipes, or try an old recipe with a new added ingredient.  Get creative and have fun cooking.  I’ve heard that cooking is like a science, or chemistry, and I’ve also heard it’s like jazz and you put a little bit of this and a little bit of that.  Whichever way you do it, it’s always more fun to cook together with someone else.  My wife will ask the girls to help with different parts of the dishes, so cooking is a family affair.  And so is cleaning, in our house, the last person to get to the table after we shout “dinner is ready” does the dishes!

Next Steps…

If you’re experiencing chronic back and neck pain, physical therapy can help.  Stress can induce chronic back and neck pain and muscle tension and physical therapy can intervene to treat, manage, and reduce your pain.  At Advanced Physical Therapy Specialists, treatment may include various types of physical and manual therapies and exercises, nerve mobilization, joint mobilization, myofascial release, as well as functional retraining.  We specialize in Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapy (OMPT) which involves hands-on techniques for restoring mobility, reducing muscle tension, and restoring your natural movement without pain.

We also tailor a home exercise program consisting of no more than 2 – 3 exercises at a time that will address your individual muscle imbalance.  While many of you are staying home, it is still very important that you receive the care you need.  We are extending our services to include TeleHealth.  Through TeleHealth we set up a video conference session where we assess your functional level and work on corrective exercises to increase mobility and decrease pain.  You can reach us at (305) 433-1172 to schedule your TeleHealth appointment.

So to recap…Yes, stress is associated with chronic back and neck pain.  It is during times like these however, that we must take the time to do a little self-care.  If you are experiencing chronic back and neck pain, please do not hesitate in reaching out to me at (305) 433-1172.