Is Stress Making You Ache?
By Janis Graham
Why your whole body suffers when you're tense; plus, how to ease the
Stress hurts: Women who lead demanding lives are more than twice as
likely to suffer from aches and pains as women with less hectic lives,
according to a recent study. "When stressed, your body produces hormones
that increase muscle tension and pain sensitivity," says Jay Winner, M.D.,
author of Stress Management Made Simple. You're likely familiar with the
dreaded tension headache, but we've uncovered four more spots where women tend
to feel stress — and we've got tips for targeted relief.
Your neck and shoulders
Your face and jaw
- How stress strikes: Your jaw feels tender and tight; the pain is
worse when you chew. "Many people respond to tension by unknowingly
clenching their jaws or grinding their teeth during sleep," says Penny
Tenzer, M.D., an associate professor at the University of Miami.
- What to do: See your dentist to find out if grinding is the culprit.
If it is, you can be fitted for a plastic mouthpiece that you wear every night
while you sleep to keep you from grinding and putting pressure on your jaw.
Also, practice keeping jaw muscles loose, with teeth slightly apart and your
tongue curled behind your upper teeth.
Your lower back
- How stress strikes: The ache centers on the small of your back and
gets worse when you're in certain positions. One often overlooked cause:
traffic. "Your whole body is tense, and sitting in one position for a long
period of time puts added strain on overworked muscles," says Tenzer.
- What to do: Drivers who regularly use a lumbar support pillow, which
helps to decrease pressure on your lower back, are almost half as likely to
have low back pain as those who don't, according to a Harvard University study.
Adjusting the angle of your car's seat and your office chair to greater than 91
degrees can also help.
- How stress strikes: You have abdominal cramps. You may also suffer
from diarrhea and/or constipation as well as a feeling that you haven't
finished a bowel movement. These symptoms signal irritable bowel syndrome
(IBS), which can come and go depending on your stress levels. IBS is twice as
common in women as in men.
- What to do: Large meals that are high in fat may trigger cramping
and diarrhea, so try to eat smaller portions of healthy foods at regular
intervals. Drink six to eight glasses of water each day and take a daily
soluble fiber supplement, such as Citrucel or Metamucil, to keep stools soft
and easy to pass.
Relieve Stress, Hurt Less
- Sleep eight hours a night. You'll be less vulnerable to the mental
stress that can bring on headaches and IBS.
- Meditate. Just 20 minutes a day can slash the severity of your aches
by 28 percent and your feelings of anxiety by 44 percent. For how-to meditation
tips, visit http://www.uvm.edu/~chwb/counseling/mindfulness.
- Exercise 30 minutes daily. It reduces levels of stress hormones and
triggers the production of beta-endorphins — chemicals that decrease pain and
help you relax.
- See your doctor if pain continues for more than a few weeks. Severe
stress can be eased with medications. Plus, there may be a medical explanation
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