Most of us know that stress can have a big impact on our mental wellbeing, but did you know that excessive stress can affect our physical body and behaviours too? Keep reading to find out how it can affect you and what you should do about it.
Do you ever feel like your stress is linked to your pain? Are you constantly suffering from tight neck and shoulder muscles or headaches? This article could make a world of difference for you.
Stress that's left unchecked can lead to many issues within the body.
We all have stress in our lives, it could be from things like work deadlines, bad traffic, or family issues. When we have stress, whether short or long term, our bodies release certain hormones including adrenaline and cortisol. This is known as our fight or flight response. A small amount of stress is healthy, it helps to heighten our alertness and focus, and is useful in emergencies, however when this stress is ongoing or overwhelming it can contribute to a number of health problems.
You may not even realize it but some of the regular aches and pains you've been experiencing could actually be linked to stress!
Physical manifestations of stress include:
Frequent headaches and migraines
Both stress and anxiety can be a catalyst for headaches and migraines. Tension type headaches are one of the most commonly reported types of headaches associated with stress. These types of headaches are often caused by spasm and tension in the muscles in your neck, shoulders and jaw, you may also notice pain behind the eyes, temples, back of the skull/top of the neck and forehead. Tension type headaches are often described as band like pressure around the head.
Stress can cause people to hold their jaw tight or grind their teeth, it also affects the muscles surrounding and controlling the jaw. This may also be accompanied by headaches.
Neck and shoulder pain
Muscle tension occurs when a muscle or group of muscles stays contracted for an extended period. Muscle tension is very often triggered by stress. This is brought about by your nervous system and how your nerves function. The brain continuously sends nerve signals telling the muscle to contract even when the muscle is no longer needed to be used. This can last for a short period or for days on end and the longer it stays contracted the more pain you will find yourself in. Blood flow to your muscles may also be reduced during stress which creates muscle tension and painful sites.
Your gut is often referred to as your second brain. This is because of the complex nervous system with lots of neurons and neurotransmitters sending constant signals to the brain and back to the gut. When we are stressed or overwhelmed symptoms such as nausea, loss of appetite (or increased in some), frequent urination and butterflies in your stomach can occur. This is because our gut motility and secretion of fluid are suddenly increased. You may notive you have to make a nervous bathroom trip before a big event.
If you are struggling to manage stress it can become very difficult to get a good night's rest due to your mind being too active and under pressure. Stress related sleep disruption is often described as a difficulty falling asleep, nightmares, waking and unable to return to sleep, and clenching or grinding of teeth. The longer this drags on for the more your stress becomes heightened and your coping abilities become disrupted leaving you in a negative cycle.
Stress can cause fatigue described as a sense of overwhelming exhaustion that can't be relieved by sleep. This may start as simple tiredness from disturbed sleep but progresses to exhaustion as it drags on.
Stress can make you gain weight and make it difficult to lose weight. This occurs for a number of reasons. Firstly stress can induce unhealthy behaviours such as eating and drinking too much and it also makes us crave sugar. This is due to the rise of cortisol and adrenaline in the body which causes glucose to release into the bloodstream, when this is prolonged you crave sugar in order to get that quick energy boost. Your body then tends to store the excess sugar, mainly in the form of abdominal fat which can be particularly hard to shed. Furthermore, high levels of cortisol slow down your metabolism making it difficult to lose any weight.
A skin rash has been known to occur during stress. Stress causes the body to releases extra chemicals, like neuropeptides and neurotransmitters. These chemicals then change how your body responds to things which causes sensitivity, inflammation and skin discomfort.
So what can you do about it?
Introducing relaxation techniques and other stress relieving activities has been found to reduce muscle tension, relieve headaches and migraines, and improve sleep and digestion amongst other things!
Some way in which you can help manage your stress are by:
Addressing your stress could be the key to reducing your pain and discomfort.
If any of this resonates with you and you want to find out more about what you can do for your headaches and migraines or pain then get in touch with us. Here at Melbourne Headache Solutions we are passionate about helping people with their headaches and migraines. We are dedicated to finding out what the root cause of your problem is and helping you to find a way to get your symptoms under control so please get in touch!
Written by Dr Helen (Osteopath) who works in our Camberwell Clinic - Melbourne Headache Solutions https://www.melbourneheadachesolutions.com.au/the-team.html