The Ultimate Stress Management Technique List From Kansas City Health Experts
15 April 2020 — Lifestyle
Stress is the body's reaction to both mentally and physically harmful situations. It is the result of a series of chemical reactions that occur in the body that work to prevent injury. This phenomenon is known as "fight-or-flight” or the stress response. During stressful situations, your breathing and heart rate increases, your muscles tighten, and your blood pressure rises. Your body has essentially prepared to act on whatever stressor has altered its healthy, normal state. It is, in a nutshell, how you protect yourself.
Stress affects everyone differently, but no matter how you react to it specifically, the one constant among all people is that the overall effect is going to be negative.
As muscle and joint experts in the Kansas City area, our team at F.I.T. Muscle & Joint Clinic have seen first hand how stress can impact the body. Thankfully, there are many ways that you can work to reduce your stress levels and control how they affect you.
Read on for our stress management technique list to help you learn how to manage stress the right way.
Stress Management Techniques and Why They are Important
Stress can manifest itself in many forms. In the midst of all the changes happening with people working from home, homeschooling their children, and worrying about staying healthy, we’re here to provide you with our stress management technique list you can implement at home—most of which require no money at all!
Exercise one of our favorite stress relief methods. Exercise can mean a lot of different things depending who you are, where you live, and what equipment you have access to. A lot of people think of exercise as going to a gym and lifting weights, but it can actually be so much more. Going for a walk with your dog or kids, taking a minute to stretch, or even just taking the stairs as much as possible are all forms of exercise you can do right in your own house or neighborhood!
Spring is in the air— and that means longer days, warmer temperatures, and increased opportunities for us all to get outside and enjoy the fresh air! Being cooped up inside the house can cause us all to get a bit stir crazy and can raise stress levels. Fresh air can help reduce the feeling of cabin fever, improve oxygen consumption, and even increase your vitamin D exposure. Here are a few simple ways to get the most of the spring weather!
✔️Open the windows
This is a great way to get instant access to fresh air without even leaving your living room! Having the windows open on a nice day can help promote air circulation throughout your house and provide the relaxing sounds of nature right from your desk or couch, both of which can help decrease stress levels.
✔️Have your coffee or read a book on the patio
Taking advantage of your patio is a simple and easily overlooked method on our stress management technique list. Regardless of your physical abilities or desire to exercise, everyone can get a little fresh air by simply setting up a folding chair on the front/back patio and enjoying a nice book or cup of coffee. You’ll get all the benefits of fresh air, and it doesn’t even require you to change out of your pajamas!
✔️Go for a walk
Many people think of cardio as strictly running and overlook the fact that simply going for a walk can be a great way to combine getting exercise, fresh air, and sunlight all in one! A walk can be anything from a couple miles around the neighborhood to a quick lap around the block or even a trip to the mailbox and back.
Spending time outdoors provides another incredible benefit that helps your body fight off stress- natural sunlight! Sunlight is a great natural source of Vitamin D, which serves many purposes in the body, including regulating absorption of calcium and facilitating normal immune system function. Making sure you get enough vitamin D exposure is important for the health and strength of your bones & teeth, improving resistance against certain diseases such as osteoporosis and the flu, and even anxiety & depression!
A lack of vitamin D is directly correlated to an increased risk of suffering from SAD (seasonal affective disorder), which is a depressive disorder that affects many people with a low vitamin D storage. A major side effect of this is an increased level of stress. This is especially common during the colder months when going outside is less desirable. With the arrival of spring and some nicer weather, now is the perfect time to increase your sunlight exposure!
This is an often overlooked and misunderstood form of stress control but can be extremely effective. You can strengthen the link between the mind and body by specific relaxation exercises such as meditation. This is often grouped with yoga and can most definitely be beneficial either in conjunction or on its own. Many great apps exist that offer guided meditations that can help improve your ability to release stressors and deal with them in a healthy manner.
The idea is to be able to completely clear your mind and physically let go of things that are causing you stress. As you improve your meditation stress management technique, you will be able to notice a difference in your mood as well as your physical tension.
Sleep deprivation is a leading cause of stress—both mental and physical. The body is made up of a network of incredibly resilient systems, but even the sturdiest of structures will break down if not properly cared for—a.k.a. rest in this scenario. Seven to eight hours of sleep for the average adult is important in order to maintain healthy function and communication between body systems.
How stress affects the body
Now that you’ve gone through our list of stress management techniques, let’s talk about how stress affects the body. Our ability to fight off illness and disease depends on several factors, some of which are beyond our control. However, the way we react to stress and the general health of our immune system are things we can influence. If we’re not able to change our response to stressors, we’ll find ourselves in a constant downhill battle. The brain and the immune system are in constant communication and stress has a great influence on disrupting this balance via any kind of physical or emotional stress.
The effects of stress are cumulative. This means that even regular, day-to-day activities such as talking on the phone, working, driving, or sleeping in a weird position can eventually lead to more serious health issues. Some of the main ways that stress affects the body is through hormonal imbalances, which cause tension in the musculoskeletal system and suppresses the immune system.
Ongoing stress makes us susceptible to illness and disease, because the brain sends defense signals to the endocrine system (where all of your hormones are made and regulated). This causes a release of an array of hormones that not only gets us ready for emergency situations (that fight-or-flight response we discussed earlier) but severely depresses our immunity at the same time. The way it does this is by triggering chemical reactions and flooding the body with cortisol. Cortisol is responsible for decreasing inflammation, which is normally good. However, when produced in excess of what the body needs, cortisol decreases white blood cells and natural killer cells (special immune cells that kill cancer) and increases the rate of infection and tissue damage.
Chronic stress can cause your muscles to essentially remain in a constant state of tension. When muscles are in this state for long periods of time, it can trigger other reactions in the body, promoting stress-related disorders. For example, both tension-type headache and migraine headache are associated with chronic muscle tension in the area of the shoulders, neck, and head. Musculoskeletal pain in the low back and arms has also been linked to stress, especially for those working from home or at a desk for long periods of time. Making sure you get up and move around often is important for reducing your risk of chronic-stress related musculoskeletal issues.
Suppressed Immune System
When we’re stressed, it reduces the immune system’s ability to fight off disease and illness. This is caused by an alteration in hormones and cells created in the body in response to what your body deciphers as an “injury” to your immune system. This in turn makes us more susceptible to infections. Stress can be linked to many conditions such as headaches and the flu. In severe cases, it can even cause heart disease, diabetes, or ulcers if your stress becomes a chronic issue. These issues can be scary or have long-lasting effects but can also be managed. Seeking care from a medical professional may be necessary in some situations.
What treatments are available to help with how your body has reacted to stress?
Stress can manifest itself in the body in a number of ways, and that’s why utilizing the help of stress management technique lists are so important. Believe it or not, stress can affect our sleep patterns, eating habits, social interactions, and activity levels just to name a few.
Everything we’ve discussed so far are all great ways to help avoid or decrease stress levels, but in some cases, more advanced measures may be necessary to adequately address what you have going on. Two of the main ways to address advanced levels of stress are through:
(1) Psychological-based care (such as talking to a therapist)
(2) Musculoskeletal-based care (such as chiropractic or physical therapy)
Each route treats stress differently, but both can be effective depending on how your stress is manifesting itself in your body.
Talking to a medical professional
It is incredibly important to address and treat the decline of mental health. A decline can mean anything from an increase in anxiety to depression or even something as simple as feeling extra tired or fatigued without reason. While all of the activities that we’ve discussed in our stress management technique list can be super helpful in combating this aspect of stress, the care of a medical professional is an asset that should be utilized by anyone experiencing psychological side effects.
Psychologists or doctors of psychiatry are specially trained to identify and treat the symptoms related to stress, anxiety, and depression. This can be done in person, via phone, or even video chat in some cases and is oftentimes covered by insurance as a medical expense. If you feel that you could benefit from speaking with a medical professional. Your primary care physician or even one of our F.I.T. doctors can help connect you with the proper person to assist you with these needs.
Chiropractic/Physical Therapy Care
A very common complaint we see at F.I.T. is that people are in pain due to “carrying their stress in their neck or shoulders.” This is especially prominent in anyone who spends the majority of their day at a desk. When you’re stressed, oftentimes tension will build in the muscles. Take a moment to address your current posture. Are you slouched over with your shoulders shrugged up tight toward your ears? This is an incredibly common similarity we see in many patients with neck/shoulder pain who are dealing with extra stress—whether it be from sitting at a desk all day, driving for extended periods of time, or just trying to balance day-to-day activities.
Depending on how long you’ve been dealing with your stress that has created tension through your body, your level of pain or discomfort may vary. For some, this can go on for years simply because they aren’t aware that it can be treated. This results in chronic or long-lasting pain. This can take longer to treat and can often create a list of other musculoskeletal issues due to compensation patterns. This means that other muscle groups will take over the work of the areas compromised due to pain and create dysfunctional movement patterns that hinder the improvement of your condition or complaint.
Choosing to receive care from a chiropractor or physical therapist can greatly improve your condition by decreasing pain and improving the quality of your movement patterns, therefore reducing your physical stress levels. You will experience a variety of soft tissue techniques aimed at manipulating the dysfunctional tissues to improve blood flow and range of motion in the surrounding joints and tissues.
In addition, your chiropractor or physical therapist will take you through a series of rehab exercises that are designed to help improve the brain-to-muscle connection. This will increase the stability and mobility of specific joints and muscle groups to provide a long-lasting effect of healthy movement patterns and most importantly—less pain! An added benefit of rehab exercises is the release of endorphins related to exercise. This helps improve your mood and reduce the way stress affects your body.
Stress can be difficult to deal with and comes in many forms. To best protect yourself from the mental and physical pitfalls of stress, you should aim to stay active, get outside whenever possible, seek out the appropriate care when necessary and remember—movement is medicine!
Learn more about our stress management techniques list with F.I.T. Muscle & Joint Clinic
If you’re in the Kansas City area, our expert team of physical therapists is here to help you manage stress and the physical pain it may cause. We spend one-on-one time with each of our patients to ensure they get the best care each and every session.