We often talk about how clenching and grinding your teeth can create head and neck pain, but what about the effects of stress, worry and anxiety, especially during the holidays with heightened emotions and activity?
Physical Ways We Feel Stress
When we feel stress we tend to hold it in our neck and shoulders. Our bodies instinctively hunch and we hold our shoulders up in response to stress. Our hunching can also be traced to our body’s instinctive fight or flight response to danger. The hunching is an automatic response to protect our vital internal organs. This extended use of and tension in the muscles can create pain. Stress may not be the direct cause of pain, but it will influence how you feel pain and bring out underlying symptoms.
Neck pain is often found at the base of the neck from holding your head too far forward or looking down for extended periods. This creates a tightness and often times “knots” in the neck muscles.
As we mentioned above, the body instinctively responds to stress by hunching the shoulders over. Holding the shoulders in a raised position, from craning the neck forward, or carrying a heavy bag, causes the neck and shoulder muscles to be short and tight. Regularly having your muscles in this tight position can lead to pain.
Tension Headaches can happen during prolonged computer work or any other detailed work where you hold your head in the same position for a long time.
Self Management & Coping Strategies
If you are feeling tightness or pain in your neck, shoulders, head, and even the hands and wrists it could be from tension held in your neck and shoulders. You should talk to us at Dr. Swenda’s if you are feeling any head and neck pain and speak to your doctor for any pains that seem to be long lasting, recurring or impeding your movement.
If you are feeling extra stress and you can feel it creating tightness in your head, neck or shoulders here are some techniques to help you during this busy time of year:
- Eat well and get plenty of sleep
- Keep up with positive social connections
- Get out, bundle up and take a walk in the sunshine or sit in a sunny window at your favorite coffee shop or restaurant – sunshine stimulates serotonin and the rhythm and repetition of walking has a calming effect on your brain
- Don’t go overboard, do less and enjoy more – Know when to say “No” with all the shopping, cooking, cards and events – take care of yourself, too. Keep your exercise routine, and your daily priorities in check and work the holidays around them
- Keep things light and laugh! Enjoy all parts of the holidays even the mishaps. Laughter reduces stress hormones. Don’t sweat the small stuff and enjoy the moments (good and bad) with the people you love
- Ergonomics – if you are sitting for long periods of time, make sure you are positioned correctly
- Neck exercises – stretch and get the blood flowing
- Relaxation exercises – meditation and yoga
- Massage relieves stress and pain and increases blood flow to the sore muscles
- Quit smoking – smoking decreases blood supply to the muscles in your neck
- A stress and pain journal to help identify triggers
- Yoga Rope Jacket – If you are a chronic shoulder slumper, try the Yoga Rope Jacket to keep those shoulders pinned back when you are at your computer or going for a walk.