The Ripple Effect of Stress

Your dripping faucet sounds louder than a set of timpani drums. You wake up exhausted on account of the overnight low pressure weather system. You are late for work because it took you much longer to get dressed this morning. You get to work only to wish you were back home due to having to sit all day in front of your computer. You should have taken a sick day or personal day at work. You just want to go home and crawl into bed and under your bedcovers. You are in pain.

Headache, neck pain, backache, tendonitis, bursitis, no matter what the reason for your pain, the slightest sound or change in pressure can sound and feel like a herd of elephants. I know. For the last couple of weeks, I experienced constant, unrelenting pain due to a shoulder injury.

The entire right quadrant of my body seemed to be under so much tension it just stopped functioning. I was left with little mobility and a lot of pain, hair-raising, 4-letter-word-swearing, eye-squinting pain. I could not concentrate. My emotions cycled between cranky and melancholy. I had little desire to be social. Life felt abrasive.

The pain not only affected how I felt, but how I saw the world around me. Pain painted my life as harsh, overbearing, shaded with extremes and complications. I sought help because simply carrying on day-to-day activities felt burdensome. Luckily, after several physical therapy sessions and a visit to the chiropractor, I am back to being pain free. I am still aware of muscle tension, but I am, for the most part, pain free.

What triggered my injury?  I wish I could pinpoint the root cause of the injury to a single event so I could avoid it again at all cost, but I do not know exactly what produced the extreme muscle tension in my shoulders which led to nerve impingement. I have been under a lot of stress. Could my injury be due to stress? Yes, most certainly, my stress level contributed to muscle tension, in my case, very localized muscle tension, giving way to pain.

We lead very hurried lives. Usually leaving very little time to ourselves to unwind, relax and let go of the pressures of the day. This always wired, always on behavior leaves are bodies tense, constantly on the alert, ready to fight the next fire. This day-to-day stress on our bodies and internalization of stress results in muscular tension. The tension in our muscles, if not released, leads to strain and repeated use injuries which result in pain.

When we are in pain, the pain not only affects us and how we cope with our daily activities, but also affects those around us. When I was in pain these last few weeks, I spent very little time with my children, and, during the time I did spend with my kids, I was either withdrawn or short-tempered. At work, I felt overburdened, unfocused and anxious; my productivity suffered.  The pain overstimulated my senses and clouded my judgement.

The next time you begin to feel muscular tension, stop and think about what may be going on in your life that may be a source of stress. Perhaps, it is a sign you need to slow down. Maybe, it is a situation which you may need to re-evaluate. Try to find time to relax, perhaps do some stretching, yoga, meditation, find some alone time, read a book, listen to music or perhaps talk with a friend. You may consider using a heat or ice pack to mitigate further injury, keeping in mind that heat improves blood flow, while ice lowers inflammation. If the tension becomes unmanageable by you and leads to pain, please seek help from a health professional. We may not always be able to control the cause of stress, but we do have control over how we respond to the tension it produces.