74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope, according to a survey by the Mental Health Foundation.

And that certainly mirrors what we’re seeing with our patients at Surrey Physiotherapy.  Many of whom come to see us with stress related physical problems.

When we are stressed the body secretes stress hormones into the bloodstream which cause specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes.  These enhance the body’s ability to deal with a threat—known as the flight or fight response.

But they also make the muscles tighten to prepare the body for that fight or flight situation.  Stress caused by anxiety has the same effect as stress caused by a physical threat, so the muscles become tense and tight and this can contribute to a whole range of physical problems.  And while the stress and anxiety persist, so do the physical symptoms:

Physical symptoms of stress:

  • Pounding heart
  • Muscle tension
  • Fast breathing
  • Headaches, back and neck pain
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep problems
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Upset stomach
  • Frequent colds and infections

Sufferers can also feel overwhelmed, anxious, and have difficulty in concentrating and making decisions.

Ways to manage stress:

Relaxation

Try the three, four, five method. Sit in a comfortable upright position. Breathe in gently through your nose for three, hold the breath for four and breathe out for five. Repeat.  Stress can cause fast and shallow breathing. But if you can slow this down it gives you brain a signal that you are calm, and you will start to feel less stressed. Practise this daily for 5 minutes or when you are feeling anxious.

You could also consider a massage or warm (but not hot) bath. And there are several apps that help relaxation, mindful living and building healthy habits e.g. Headspace

Sleep

The amount we need depends on age, sex, health and other elements, and sleep cycles change as we age. But most adults require 7-9 hours per night, reducing by an hour for the over 65s.

If you struggle to sleep then try turning off phones and computers an hour before bed to allow some wind down time.  Clear the clutter in your bedroom to make it a restful space and try to go to bed and get up at the same time each day.

Diet

We’re all aware of the need to keep up our intake of fruit and vegetable and to limits what we consume in terms of highly refined foods such as white bread/pasta/chocolate/biscuits/sweets or anything with added sugars.  

But we should also bear in mind that when we’re stressed, the body has an increased demand for protein.  Choose lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds in each meal.

Try not to skip meals.  Eat regularly and snack on healthy treats.  Small, regular meals will help to maintain energy levels and mood, while decreasing tiredness and irritability.

Avoid highly refined foods such as in many cereals, breads, tinned produce and processed/packaged foods. Replace processed foods with the unrefined foods such as brown bread, rice, oats and rye. Note that excess alcohol can also cause imbalanced blood sugar levels.

Exercise

Physical exercise is a great stress reliever, particularly if you are outdoors. Go for a walk or cycle and concentrate on the world about you. Walk with a friend. According to Anxiety UK, 150 minutes of moderate activity every week, or an average of 30 minutes five times a week is recommended for adults.  But even a short walk can help to clear the mind and any exercise is better than none.

Talk

Connect with and talk to family, friends, work colleagues. Talking through problems with others is helpful. Seek professional help from a counsellor if you feel overwhelmed and are unable to speak to friends and family.

Make some time for yourself

Spend time on things you enjoy and with people whose company energises you.  Take time to laugh and have fun.

Avoid

Smoking and alcohol – they will make the problem worse.

If you are experiencing persistent backpain, headaches or neck pain then why not book to see one of our Physiotherapists who can advise you on the right exercise for you, breathing techniques and how to treat the tense muscles.  You can email or call on 01737 558288.