Use these relaxation strategies to reduce, prevent, and cope with stress.
By Lisa Davis
Could stress be causing your chronic pain? According to a study in Brain, people who live with chronic pain conditions like back pain and arthritis, avoiding stress may be vital to managing their health. Whether the result of an accident, illness or surgery, pain is often associated with high levels of stress, explained Dr. Pierre Rainville, PhD in Neuropsychology, co-author of the study and a researcher at the Research Centre of the Institut universitaire de griatrie de Montral (IUGM). Our findings are useful in that they open up avenues for people who suffer from pain to find treatments that may decrease its impact and perhaps even prevent chronicity.
To complement their medical treatment, those who live with pain can work on their stress management and fear of pain by getting help from a psychologist and also trying relaxation or meditation techniques. To help Pain Resource readers, we’ve compiled a list of tips to reduce stress and anxiety. Consider this your Relaxation Tip Sheet for better stress management.
It may sound simple but breathing can lower stress significantly. Deep, slow breathing calms your central nervous systems, creating a sense of relaxation throughout your body. Try practicing breathing in slowly for five seconds, holding your breath for five seconds, and then releasing the breath slowing for five seconds. You can also use imagery while you are breathing. Imagine breathing out any negative or stress emotions, and when breathing in, imagine you are taking in positive thoughts and feelings.
It might sound counter-intuitive to exercise when you are trying to relax, but exercises like yoga or walking outside among nature, can help you feel more relaxed afterwards. And when it comes to staying healthy or regaining your well-being if you have a chronic pain condition almost nothing is as helpful as regular physical activity. (For exercise tips on how to stay in the game when pain does strike, read Don’t Let a Sports Injury Sideline You for advice from sports medicine experts to help protect you against an exercise injury, or bounce back from one.
A study by psychologist Malcolm Cross, PhD, City University London, found that if you are upset or anxious, it pays to make a cup of tea. In this study, the calming influence was the ritual of making the tea and the tea’s warmth. (The act of putting the kettle on helped by tapping into a collective conscious and symbolism.) The findings reveal that even a single cup of tea can significantly reduce anxiety levels after suffering a stressful experience and in some cases, make people calmer than they were before. The experiment at the center of the study, which placed volunteers in a stressful scenario, showed a 25 percent increase in anxiety for those that did not receive tea immediately after the stress-inducing test. Conversely, those who were given tea actually demonstrated a reduction in stress. Another tea study in London found that people who drank black tea were able to de-stress more quickly than those who drank a fake tea substitute. In addition, tea drinkers had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol after exposure to stress. (Tip: Another tea known for it calming effects is chamomile, which acts as a nerve tonic and a sleeping aid.)
Getting away from it all can be a major stress reducer. Unplugging your cell phone, computer, IPad and TV for 30 minutes a day can help you recharge your mental batteries. Meditation is also a way to wipe away the day’s stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, spending even a few minutes in meditation can restore your calm and inner peace. Meditation is considered a type of mind-body complementary medicine that produces a deep state of relaxation. Types of meditation include guided imagery where you form mental images of places or situations you find relaxing, and mantra meditation where you silently repeat a calming word, thought or phrase to prevent distracting thoughts. (For more ideas on the types of meditation you can do to lower stress, read this story from the Mayo Clinic, Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress.)
Take a Vacation
You don’t have to take a two-weekend vacation to feel relaxed. A long weekend away can do wonders if you’re stressed out. Being in a new environment free from work and other commitments can help you lower your anxiety, clear your mind, and also can be a way to reconnect with family and friends. Even taking a personal day from work can lower stress as it opens up time to run errands, giving you more time to relax on the weekends. (Did you know that volunteer vacations can help relieve your pain? Research shows that taking care of others, like going on a volunteer vacation where you can serve the homeless or assist in an orphanage, can actually be a way to care for yourself.)
Do you have a method for reducing stress in your life? Share your relaxation tips with others who live with chronic pain in our Community Section.