Here are 10 questions to ask yourself when you feel stress setting up shop in your body, and the first steps to take to get your stress to move along.
1. Is my jaw clenched? Jaw pain, which affects the TMJ joint, can result when you chronically try to crunch or grind stress away with your teeth.
Try This: Try placing your tongue on the top of your palette as a gentle reminder to keep your teeth from touching each other, or apply warm compresses to your jaw.
2. Is my lower back over-arched? Those of us who hold stress in our lower backs might chronically overarch our lumbar spines, a condition called lordosis.
Try This: Doing some gentle forward bends throughout the day should remind your body to release that holding.
3. Is my neck pressing forward? Concentrating too hard on a computer screen can cause us to stretch our necks so far forward we strain the muscles that hold our heads upright.
Try This: Throughout the day, massage the sides of your neck and gently tilt your head upward to counteract this stress-based habit.
4. Am I struggling to get a good night’s sleep? When racing, stress-filled thoughts keep us awake, it’s time to take inventory of our sleep hygiene.
Try This: Turn off all screens before sleep, use your bed only for sleep, avoid large meals before sleep, and try to maintain a consistent sleep and wake-up routine.
5. Does my heart seem to be beating fast? A racing heart is a hallmark sign of chronic stress and anxiety.
Try This: The Mayo Clinic says a normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Check yours by feeling your pulse on your wrist or neck, counting the beats for 15 seconds, and multiplying that number by 4. If your heart rate is too high, take 10 slow, deep breaths and measure it again.
6. Do I have a headache? Stress-induced headaches often start in our necks and creep up the backs of our skulls.
Try This: Check your posture and make any necessary adjustments to try to find calm strength in your neck and shoulders. If headaches persist, consult your doctor for medical recommendations.
7. Am I eating differently from normal? “Stress eating” is a reality for many of us, leaving us feeling over-full, disconnected from our hunger cues, and, ironically, more stressed. Some people might lose their appetites in times of acute stress, while others seek comfort through food.
Try This: However your digestive system handles stress, try to be mindful in your eating habits, following your cues for hunger and satiation, and choosing foods that truly nourish.
8. Do I feel hot? The fight-or-flight response that activates at times of anxiety has a side effect of constricting blood vessels, which can make you feel very hot very quickly. Sweating is also a symptom of anxiety attacks that can result from chronic stress.
Try This: To combat excessive heat, find gentle movements to get your blood flowing, wear cool clothing in breathable fabrics, and make sure you are well hydrated.
9. Is my stomach upset? Who among us hasn’t suffered from “nervous stomach” at some point in our lives? Indigestion, nausea, bloating, and diarrhea can follow chronic stress when our digestive systems are out of balance.
Try This: When symptoms strike, try the bland BRAT diet of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast to minimize gas and cramping. Replenish your beneficial digestive bacteria with a quality probiotic. If symptoms persist, consult your doctor.
10. Am I feeling forgetful or having difficulty concentrating? Living with chronic stress asks a lot of our brains, which leaves less space for cognitive processes like memory and concentration.
Try This: Take steps to lower your overall stress level—exercise more, eat better, get healthy sleep, say no to depleting activities—and see if your cognition improves. If it doesn’t, consult your doctor for ideas.
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