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The Long and Short of How Stress Affects Your Health

Oct. 31, 2013

Are you often cranky, lethargic, irritable and unhappy? Do you have consistent headaches, neck pain, tense shoulders and tired back muscles? If this describes your normal disposition then you more than likely are feeling the effects of living an all-too-common stressed-out lifestyle. If you don’t start taking steps to break down the stress in your life soon, then it can ultimately lead to breaking you down both mentally and physically.

Physical Stress Cramps Your Body

One of the most popular places for stress to set up camp is in the neck and back areas. Kym Northey, massage therapist at Elements Glendale, identifies that one of the biggest culprits for physical stress is constantly sitting in front of the computer and plugging in to electronic devices.

“Whether it’s for our jobs or not, we are horribly addicted to sitting in front of the computer for long periods of time,” Northey says. “I tell my clients to keep a timer by their desk and set it for the top of the hour. When the timer goes off, get up, walk around and take a much-needed break.”

By sitting too long with your neck and shoulders hunched toward a screen, stress solidifies in your neck and back muscles leading to headaches, pains and strains. Physical stress from sitting and staring at a computer also can show itself in your body in the short term by affecting your lower back, legs, feet and eyes. When ignored or prolonged, physical soreness and stiffness in these areas can lead to arthritis, loss of motion and muscle fatigue.

“You have to get blood flowing and moving throughout your body, but especially through your legs and feet if you sit all day for your job,” Northey advises.

After a long day of working in the office or the home, Northey also suggests relieving daily muscle strain and tension by incorporating the following at-home stress remedies to close out your day.
Rub a frozen water bottle along the bottom of your feet. Releasing pressure points in your feet is a good way to help release stress.
Massage the top and back of your legs to get circulation moving when you have your legs propped up to watch your favorite television show.
Rub a tennis ball along your neck, shoulder blades and spine before bed to help loosen common tight and tense muscles due to stress.
Mental Stress Messes with your Mood and Body

Heated discussions with family or co-workers, long to-do lists and an overscheduled lifestyle might be business as usual in your daily life, but all of the individual pressures you face each day can quickly pile up into a huge heap of mental stress. Mental stress tends to show itself in your attitude toward yourself and others, as well as the way you communicate and interact with the people around you. It also can affect your body physically by flaring up muscle tension in your neck, shoulder blades and at the temples of your forehead. In the long term, mental stress can lead to insomnia, ulcers, internal organ issues, depression and anxiety.

“A lot of people depending on their lifestyle and job have a high-strung personality and their body can show it,” Northey says. “If you live a stressful lifestyle for a long time, your body will use up every natural resource it can until eventually you end up with severe internal issues.”

Healthy Lifestyles Stress the Importance of Taking Care of Yourself

Ultimately, it is up to you whether you are going to be a victim of stress or if you are going to take the proper steps to break its vicious cycle. The first step to winning the fight is to take responsibility for the stress in your life and become accountable for minimizing it. The simple act of taking time out for yourself on a regular basis can lead to making big strides toward living a healthy and stress-free lifestyle. By taking a break on a regular basis, you are making it a point to step away from your hectic life, even if it’s just for a few minutes, to relax and release built-up tension.

“Everybody is horrible at making time for themselves, even me,” shares Northey. “I have kids and I understand how you are busy taking care of everyone else. It’s important, though, for people to make time for themselves.”

Northey suggests implementing the following regular habits into your lifestyle to begin the process of taking care of and time out for yourself.
Get out and walk around the block each morning or night to move the muscles in your body and get away from the world. Turn off your phone and just tune into taking time for yourself both mentally and physically.
Leave stress from your job at the office by not bringing work home. At the end of each day, write a list of everything you want to focus on for the following day and leave it on your desk. This can help minimize worrying about work situations during your off hours.
Schedule regular massage therapy sessions to heal and repair your body by relaxing your muscles and mind. When the body is massaged, it stimulates the release of chemicals in the brain that can help reduce stress and anxiety.
Get on a path to a healthier, happy lifestyle by breaking the pattern of a stressed-out existence. Replace the people and things that are stressing you out with activities and habits that support taking time out for yourself and regularly releasing the tension that builds up throughout your day.

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