Stress, everyone has it too some degree – some is healthy, lots is not.
What effect does a lot of stress have on your body?
Stress is known to affect the whole body but we shall focus on the way it affects the neck and shoulder girdle. Much research over the years has confirmed a connection between neck pain and stress. One study, for instance, in the BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders Journal, found that of nearly 500 people tested, those with stress, anxiety or depression had significantly worse neck pain that lasted longer than those without.
Even without the research though, lots of people will tell you that stress makes their neck and shoulders feel tight. When someone consciously relaxes, one of the most noticeable things to happen is their shoulders drop a couple of inches.
I’d go even further, and say that as the brain recognises the connection between stress and neck & shoulder tightness (and in fact initiates it). Let me explain, if someone has a tight neck or shoulders due to another cause, the brain, rightfully or wrongfully interprets this as the body being stressed.
If you have those muscles massaged and loosened and the neck releases, most people feel immediately less stressed.
Some of the many causes of neck or shoulder girdle dysfunction and stress crossover, such as long hours working at a computer to meet deadlines, and not sleeping very well. From this, secondary symptoms can develop, most commonly, headaches.
Some exercises that I recommend for tension headaches can be found here.
So what can we do about it?
Well, as always, firstly make sure there is nothing else causing your symptoms. Get a health professional to assess you and diagnose what is causing your symptoms.
If the diagnosis is stress or posture-related then get it treated. It’s important to treat from both a musculoskeletal point-of-view as well as understand and address the cause of your stress.
Alongside this, there are a number of at-home techniques you can do to help ease the tension in your neck and shoulders.
1. Do neck and shoulder mobility exercises.
A couple of quick and easy exercises I would recommend would be:
Exercise 1 :
Exercise 2 :
Exercise 3 :
2. Get a good amount of quality sleep.
Stress is known to affect your ability to sleep. There are things you can do to give yourself the best chance of sleep.
– Make sure you’re comfortable in bed
– Be strict with no blue light (screens) for at least an hour before bed
– Having a warm bath or shower to help you relax
3. Find something to relax you.
It doesn’t have to be meditation or yoga, it could be exercise or playing an instrument. Perhaps avoiding instruments such as the violin which will exacerbate neck & shoulder pain. The ides if to find something that sends you to your flow state. Something that will distract you that you really enjoy and will relax you.
4. Work in a good environment.
Set up your workstation in an ergonomic way will do wonders for your posture. Remember to have lots of breaks and consider investing in a standing desk. If you’re interested in knowing what an ergonomic workstation set up looks like, continue reading here.
5. Speak to a healthcare professional.
Your health professional may recommend you get support or therapy for your stress, anxiety or depression, or any mental health issues you may be experiencing.
Is Osteopathy the right path for you?
Osteopathy is a holistic way to diagnose and alleviate stress-related musculoskeletal problems including shoulder and neck pain and secondary symptoms such as headaches. The treatment is catered to the individual and Andrew will take all aspects of a patient’s lifestyle into consideration when suggesting a treatment plan.
All treatment starts with an initial consultation followed by any recommended follow up treatment. You can book your initial consultation with Andrew Doody online.
Everyone feels stressed from time to time. In small doses, stress can actually be quite useful; motivating us to achieve our goals. But for some, stress is chronic. Meaning it is debilitating and negatively impacts their mood, their health and wellbeing, their relationships and their work.
Experiencing a lot of stress over a long period of time can also lead to a feeling of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, often called burnout. It is, therefore, easy to see why reducing stress across all areas of your life would be important. Stress management tips are a good place to start.
Learning how to manage your stress takes practice and time.
Here are our top 10 ways on managing and reducing stress.
10 TIPS TO REDUCE STRESS:
Prioritise your health
– make decisions which will benefit your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. For example, go alcohol-free a few nights each week or allow yourself time for a hobby you enjoy. These small steps for a healthier lifestyle will help in reducing stress levels.
Get a good night’s sleep (regularly)
– research clearly shows that sleep deprivation amplifies the symptoms associated with stress. Aim for between 7-9 hours of good quality sleep every night.
Practice deep breathing
– when our bodies are stressed, the muscles that help us breathe tighten. By focussing on taking several deep breaths we can quickly and effectively relieve physical symptoms associated with feeling stressed or anxious. Try to do this regularly throughout the day.
Drink enough water
– being dehydrated (however mild) causes our cortisol levels to rise, which automatically makes us feel stressed. Your body is already dehydrated if you’re feeling thirsty. So try to avoid reaching this point by hydrating yourself regularly. Aim for 2-3 litres per day, more in hot weather or when exercising.
Eat a balanced diet
– dieticians stress how certain foods have stress-relieving properties. For example, dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants, whilst avocados and oily fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids (both of which are proven to help lower anxiety levels).
– physical activity causes our brains to release mood-improving chemicals called endorphins. These help us to cope with potentially challenging situations. Both Public Health England and the World Health Organisation recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. Choose activities you enjoy to achieve maximum benefit for the mind as well as the body.
Adopt a positive mindset
– research suggests that making a conscious effort to think positively can help protect us against a whole host of physical and mental issues, including stress.
Manage your time and tasks effectively
– by giving ourselves enough time in which to complete a given task, and by making sure that we don’t try and accomplish too many stressful things at once, we can reduce the likelihood of feeling overwhelmed.
Spend less time online
– many studies have found a strong positive correlation between internet usage and stress levels. Spending less time on our computers and phones is a simple way to practice self-care. Having screen-free time for at least an hour before bedtime has also been shown to improve sleep.
Learn to say no
– in a culture that demands we take on more and more responsibilities, having the confidence to say “no” will only become more important. This final tip takes us back to the start, by reiterating the importance of prioritising our health above unrealistic social pressures, and brings us onto developing an essential tool – resilience.
If you are interested in how Fleet Street Clinic can assist your workplace with stress management and resilience training, get in touch.
Or if you are an individual who needs help managing stress, you can book a GP appointment online. Our doctors will be able to talk through your thoughts, symptoms and emotions and set you on the right path to diagnosis. They will also be able to recommend relevant support services for stress, if appropriate.