Chronic pain and stress are more intertwined than you might think. One can cause the other, trapping you in a cycle that becomes increasingly harder to get out of the longer you’ve been enmeshed.
While this may feel inevitable, it doesn’t have to be. Know that you have more control over how you choose to cope with your chronic pain and the stress it brings on than you realize. Here are three ways to combat stress and chronic pain naturally in one fell swoop.
Natural Stress Relief #1: Unwind With Music
Music isn’t just a form of entertainment—it’s a stress-relieving tool with a profound effect on the body and mind.
According to research at Stanford University, music can reactivate the parasympathetic nervous system after stressful situations, changing the brain’s functioning to the same extent as medication.
For example, while fast tempos make you feel alert and energized, slower beats quiet your mind and relax your muscles, helping you release the stress of the day. And because we’re living in the age of streaming, almost everyone has access to music, making it a highly accessible tool for managing stress.
A tempo of 60 beats per minute is enough to create alpha brainwaves, frequencies in the brain that are present when we’re relaxed. The best genres of music to relax your body and mind are:
- Ambient sounds, e.g., rain, thunder, and nature
- Jazz and classical music
- Native American or Celtic drums, flutes, and string instruments
Natural Stress Relief #2: Meditate Anytime, Anywhere
Meditation is an ancient practice with thousands of years of history behind it, but it wasn’t until the 21st century that mediation became what we know it as today: a mind-body practice designed to turn your attention inward and develop a heightened state of awareness. It’s this change in consciousness during meditation that correlates with several health benefits, including stress prevention.
When stressed, your body activates its “fight-or-flight response,” a physiological reaction triggered by the release of hormones to prepare your body to either stay and confront a threat or run to safety.
While this natural response was helpful to our hunter and gatherer ancestors, in modern times, not so much. Everyday stressors like sitting in traffic or paying bills can trigger our “fight-or-flight” response, keeping us in a prolonged stress state which has cascading effects on our physical and mental health.
Moreover, meditation has the opposite effect, triggering your body’s relaxation response and restoring your mind to calm. To meditate, know that there isn’t a right or wrong way. Whether you choose to sit comfortably or opt for a leisurely stroll, meditation can be done anywhere as long as you pull your attention inward, notice your thoughts, and let them go.
Natural Stress Relief #3: Take a Quick Walk
It’s common knowledge that exercise is a natural stress reliever, but if getting active isn’t your forte, know that a quick walk around the block is enough to prevent stress.
Research shows that walking promotes the release of endorphins, i.e., hormones that improve mood and stimulate relaxation. You don’t have to overexert yourself to reap the benefits either; a casual walk is enough to relax your body and mind. A 2018 study in the Health Promotion Perspectives journal confirms this as participants who walked for just 10 minutes showed improved mood and relaxation when compared to no activity at all.
From the treadmill to the great outdoors, walking for stress relief can be done almost everywhere. Health experts recommend 30 minutes of movement daily, but if your schedule has you in a tight bind, 10 to 15-minute increments are sufficient, too.
To get the most out of your walking, consider:
- Having an accountability partner
- Wearing supportive shoes to avoid injuries
- Varying your routine, i.e., try walking in different places for a variety of scenery
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