Quick Tips from the PT to Manage That Stress

When life is stressful- for whatever reason it may be- I see a significant spike in pain levels in patients no matter what body part or issue they are coming in to see me for. Life is stressful for everyone this week, and will likely continue to impact all aspects of our world for upcoming weeks and months to come. So, I wanted to share a couple tips I use with my patients (and self) to manage the roller coaster of emotions, stress, and the resultant impact on the body.

Tip 1: Self myofascial release

There is evidence-based research that connects self myofascial release to a decrease in activity of the sympathetic nervous system, the one that’s responsible for “fight of flight.” It controls the body’s tension in the muscles, spikes cortisol release, increases your heart rate, breathing… it’s gets you ready to run from danger. And even though that sounds like a good idea this week, chronic stress keeps sending that signal to the body and results in health problems of all kinds.

So, get out that foam roller or massage stick or lacrosse ball and put it to use. Especially on your upper back where a lot of stress lives- use a foam roller on the ground or a peanut roller against the wall. The amount of pressure should feel good, not bad, in order to encourage your brain to let go of that heightened response of the sympathetic system. Inducing that relaxation response can go a long way for managing the stress and effects on your body.

Tip 2: Patterned breathing

In the science world we call it relaxation or deep breathing, in the yoga world we call it Pranayama- in all worlds it can have an instant effect on calming down the nervous system. And research confirms it works. There are all kinds of variations in how to incorporate breathing for stress management, my favorite is a very simple version. Inhaling and exhaling to a particular count, and trying to lengthen that count with successive inhales and exhales. And once you get the hang of it, it is easy to incorporate in the middle of a stressful situation, to instantly tell your sympathetic nervous system to literally calm down. Something like this:

Inhale to the count of 3…. pause… exhale to the count of 3… pause.
Inhale to the count of 3 (again)…. pause… exhale to the count of 3 (again)… pause.
Inhale to the count of 4…. pause… exhale to the count of 4… pause.
Inhale to the count of 4 (again)…. pause… exhale to the count of 4 (again)… pause.
Inhale to the count of 5…. pause… exhale to the count of 5… pause.

Keep repeating or building as able. Notice what this does to your brain and body after you finished. It’s like a huge exhale of stress, literally.

If you want to learn more about understanding the stress response, there’s a great article HERE from Harvard Health.

The good news is physical activity benefits your nervous system as well- something we all already know as part of the Sanitas community. The better news is that Sanitas staff is going above and beyond to keep things safe and healthy at the gym in order to stay open, and provide that space to help with stress control as well.

Dr. Nicole Haas, PT, DPT, OCS is a strong advocate of community outreach and education, and lends her voice and expertise locally and nationally across the wellness and medical community. She is a board certified orthopedic clinical specialist with a doctorate in physical therapy who has been practicing more than 20 years, and is a certified yoga teacher as well. She is dedicated to helping the community understand the tipping point between health and injury, and to promoting understanding of the biomechanics of movement patterns that allow the body to participate in a balanced life. She uses a blend of evidence-based medicine, manual therapy, functional training and exercise to help each individual she works with maintain a healthy and pain-free lifestyle. Read more HERE about Dr. Haas and how she supports the CrossFit Sanitas members and the Boulder community.



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