Resolved: Stay Relaxed, Avoid Stress

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Category: Chronic Pain Articles Published on Monday, 01 August 2005 Written by Yong Tsai, MD
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Everyone knows about stress. It’s that period when you start to feel overwhelmed, lacking control, and stuck in a situation that no matter what you do cannot be changed. Fortunately, there are valuable stress management tools you can learn to help you react to those unchangeable situations in a positive way.

Stress, derived from the Latin word for “stringer” meaning to strangle or bind tightly, occurs when your body reacts to an event, whether environmental, emotional, physical, or psychological that exceeds its adaptive cognitive and behavioral resources, causing an inner body battle. Primarily spoken of by engineers, a “stress point” is the culmination of a particular maximum resistance, as when a piece of metal suffers a fracture because of an applied force. Several studies suggest that during the experience of constant, intensifying stress associated with chronic pain, rheumatoid arthritis or spinal stenosis, the normal adrenal gland behavior becomes chaotic and quite problematic.

Because we all have individual perception, two people may respond differently to identical stressors, by experiencing some or all of the following symptoms at different intensities: general irritability, hear pounding, impulsive behavior, an inability to concentrate, dizziness, insomnia, and a loss of or excessive appetite. Once a person becomes aware of stress, the most important thing they can do is relax, which balances and reconditions the central nervous system, and desensitizes distressing thoughts.

Relaxation techniques such as autogenic training, breathing exercises, imagery techniques, meditation, progressive relaxation, tai chi, and yoga create a shift from a state of anxiety to an autogenic (almost asleep) state. Because such meditative-relaxation techniques decrease anxiety, they also lower blood pressure and respiratory rate, induce muscle relaxation, and decrease pain perception.

The most basic relaxation technique is deep breathing, commonly used as a pain management technique for women in labor. Slow, deep breaths not only help turn o your relaxation response, they extinguish the stress response system. Another relaxation technique that requires concentration on a happy thought, word, or image while letting your worries fade is known as “mind clearing.” Using your imagination to picture a peaceful place in your mind is called “visualization,” which is quite effective for public speakers.

Finally, even though basic relaxation techniques can be performed without formal training, the more advanced techniques such as autogenic training, Tai Chi, yoga, or transcendental meditation may require you to take an instruction class.

Being aware of the stress around you and realizing that relaxation techniques are key elements in managing chronic pain are the first steps you need to take. Realizing certain techniques should be taught by a professional instructor can be most beneficial.

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