How often do I hear patients – particularly those with neck and shoulder pain or headaches – blame their problem on the stress they are under in their lives? And it’s true. When we are stressed, anxious, cold or otherwise tense, our muscles respond by tightening up and this is an extremely common cause of neck pain and headaches. Our lives these days seem riddled with things specifically designed to keep us worked-up, whether it’s family troubles, money worries or just some irritating person at work. And there’s no getting away from it – we are increasingly unable to take time out for ourselves, thanks to the presence of technology which will beep, buzz and generally jump up and down in front of us until we answer whatever minutiae it has decided requires our attention.
But there are ways we can help ourselves, and here are just a few:
- Stay positive. Easier said than done a lot of the time, but by consciously avoiding thinking negatively about situations and focussing on the good things that have happened in your day, you can often stay a little calmer.
- Avoid information overload. You can’t stop a lot of information coming at you, but you can learn to be effective at prioritising what gets most of your attention. By concentrating on the most important things first, and leaving the little things until later, you often feel more in control of what you are doing. I also find it’s helpful to have, for example, an hour before I stop for lunch and another at the end of the day for doing all the silly little jobs that will otherwise bug the heck out of you, but will only take a moment each. So you spend most of your time on the major projects, knowing the errands and small tasks will still get done.
- Have a tea break. Not only does this afford you the opportunity to stand up and walk around, but it is also a good moment to take a step back from whatever you are working on, helping you to keep the bigger picture in focus.
- Sleep! It’s a vicious cycle – sleep is commonly disrupted by stress, but stress is made worse by lack of sleep. Sleep is vital not only for your psychological well-being, but also your physical well-being. Different things work for different people, but finding a routine which allows you to wind down at the end of the day and get a good nights’ sleep is vitally important. It’s starting to sound a little cliché, but it is often as simple as switching off all screens for 30-60mins before you go to bed.
- Make time for you. Whether it’s an activity you particularly enjoy, a hobby you haven’t been indulging in much lately or simply planning to do nothing at all for an evening except have some quality family-and-friend time, try to make space in your life for something just for you. It will not only help your stress levels, but it will also give you something to look forward to and allow you to work more efficiently when you do get back to whatever else you’ve got going on.
- Take a different view. A bit like trying to think positively, when something happens that causes you worry and anxiety why not try and see how this could actually work in your favour. For example, if you are made redundant, try to look at it as a chance to do something new that you might otherwise never have tried. Or, if money is a bit tight and you can’t take the kids out for a fun trip to the theme park, look for ways to make the most of spending time together by doing something like baking a cake – ingredients can be bought relatively cheaply, the mess and excitement of baking it, plus a delicious treat at the end! Who needs Alton Towers?!
- Devote time to helping others. When you feel down, do some good. Go to a pet rescue centre and take an abandoned dog for a walk (a win-win situation, as being around animals also lowers stress levels) or bag groceries for a food bank near your home. It can help put things in perspective, as well as taking you away from whatever was stressing you out in the first place.
- Enjoy park life. I’ve said it before, I’ll undoubtedly say it again…exercise is priceless when it comes to physical and psychological well-being. As the owner of a mad Jack Russell, I sometimes find it hard to motivate myself to take her out for a walk. I know she needs it, I know her irritating behaviours around the house will decrease the minute I do it, but somehow it’s an effort to make myself do it. But it’s so worth it – there’s always something beautiful to look at, no matter what season or what the weather is like.