It’s no surprise that pain causes stress. But did you know the opposite is also true? Stress leads to the release of inflammatory chemicals in the body that can ultimately lead to pain, potentially worsening the way we experience a painful condition.
Low back pain, neck pain, and headaches are some common examples of stress-related pain. When these problems continue for a long time, it can take a toll on your emotions and your health.
This is where resilience comes in. Resilience-boosting activities can help you find comfort both physically and mentally.
Here are three keys to handling the pain of stress:
1. Take a breather.
It’s natural to tense up when you’re stressed. Your shoulders and jaw tighten, your breath quickens, your muscles stiffen. Your ticker tape of negative thoughts may even begin to run, conjuring worst-case scenarios—making you even more tense. But this fear and resistance takes a huge drain on your already limited energy. It’s also likely to make your physical symptoms worse. Fear triggers stress hormones, which can raise your blood pressure, impact your memory, and cause weight gain.
>>TRY THIS: Tune in to the moment (even if it’s uncomfortable). When uncomfortable physical symptoms arise, draw your attention back to the present moment and focus on your breath. Are you breathing fully or tensing your body? Can you shift your thoughts to something positive? It’s easier to deal with the source of your stress with a calm mind and body.
Read more about how to turn on your body’s relaxation response to help you feel better.
2. Re-examine your habits.
Escapism and avoidance are two ways you may try to cope with the pain of stress. Certainly, healthy distractions (like the occasional Netflix binge of your favorite show) can help get your mind off of difficult symptoms, but it’s important to face your stress head on so you can ultimately reduce the pain.
>>TRY THIS: Take inventory. Without judgment or blame, ask yourself: Is there a major stressor that I’ve avoided dealing with? Have I been eating too much sugar or drinking too much coffee? What tends to make me feel worse or better? Taking a closer look at your habits is key to both getting to the root of you pain and easing it.
Read more on how to ditch the habits that keep you stressed.
3. Reach out for support.
If your stress-related pain is affecting your daily life, it may be time to ask for help. Pain can be an isolating experience—and it’s ten times harder to bear it on your own.
>>TRY THIS: Lean in to your connections (even when you want to lean away). Your instinct might be to hide your struggle and soldier on, but now is the time to be open and honest with friends and loved ones. Could your neighbor carpool the kids to school this week? Tell her what you’re going through and ask her for the favor. Do you need an encouraging word from someone? Shoot your best friend a text. Draw from your circle of connections to see who can offer support.
Read more on why connections are critical, especially in times of high stress.