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Our nervous system’s response to stress is commonly called the “fight or flight” response.  This response is a heightened activation of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS).  The SNS is responsible for getting our body ready for survival.  Although we rarely have to fight off predators in today’s world, this response can still be strongly activated.  When stressed, our heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate increases, our pupils enlarge, and our muscles tense; getting us ready for “fight or flight”.

The opposite response to stress is relaxation, which occurs when our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is activated. When our body relaxes, our heart rate and blood pressure reduce, muscles unwind, and our breath deepens.  In a state of relaxation, our nerves quiet, more oxygen is exchanged in the body, and the sensation of pain is reduced!

Prolonged physical and mental stress can contribute to headaches, nausea, fatigue, nervousness, indecision, and poor job performance.  Emotional stress can contribute to increased muscle contraction, leading to weakness and fatigue.  Under intense stress, muscles may become tight, inelastic and prone to injury and pain.

Stress management becomes a very important part of daily life and pain management.  Here are some tips to help manage your stress:

  • Identify and acknowledge the factors that may be causing stress in your life.
  • Prioritize your activities and commitments.
  • Set attainable goals.
  • Schedule time for yourself and enjoy a relaxing activity.
  • Maintain good nutrition. Avoid high levels of caffeine and sugars.
  • Use relaxation techniques to reduce the negative effects of stress and allow recuperation.
  • Use the three natural tranquilizers– music, laughter, and exercise. Research has shown that people who exercise regularly (especially cardiovascular exercise) are more emotionally stable, less tense, and more creative.

Practice deep breathing using your diaphragm (belly) versus your chest.  Belly breathing relaxes muscle spasms and relieves tension, hence decreasing pain and our stress response.  Integrate daily breathing practices when you notice stress or tension in your body.  Combining belly breathing with stretching and exercise will make your stretches more