Physical tension may be the most easily recognizable sign of stress, unless you’ve already been learning to recognize it’s many different effects on our bodies. When we start feeling back strain, or tightness in our neck and shoulders, stress has been building up for some time. Some may schedule a massage, or try to fit in a yoga class for a good stretch and some ‘Me’ time, and some will still feel a bit guilty about taking that time for themselves and away from other tasks at hand!
Taking time for yourself is far from selfish. As they say while reviewing airline safety information, “You have to put your oxygen mask on first, before helping others.” For good reason! If you are running on empty, what do you have to share with others?
Tension is just one manifestation of physical stress. Our bodies are made to move! Sitting all day can be as painful as heavy work, just in a different way. We need to make a point of breaking out of the small box we have been issued to work within. So much of what we do in a day requires our arms held forward – typing, holding a mobile device, even cooking and hobbies like painting or carpentry. Our shoulders round forward, head drops, and the low back rounds when not properly supported… We all need to loosen up and get the blood moving again to support every organ and our total health. Short breaks throughout the day to stretch or get up and walk around for a few minutes can make a world of difference!
Physical stress also finds us through the food that we eat. These days we have to make a point of seeking out products that are not treated with pesticides, antibiotics (in animal protein and dairy), and full of processed ingredients. It makes sense that our bodies are best able to utilize the building blocks of nutrition provided by whole foods, instead of unrecognizable simple carbs and preservatives. Also, as we begin to understand the value of our microbiome, we can see that killing the pests that keep our gut in balance, and even help us finish digesting our food, can have far reaching consequences – not only for our digestive health, but also autoimmune function.
Pharmaceuticals are one more stressor that we may be inflicting on our body’s optimal function. In some cases, medications are essential for long term management of disease, and we rely on our physicians to oversee the proper dosage and plan. As consumers we are also responsible for educating ourselves about what we are using, their side effects and drug interactions. Prescription meds may even cause drug induced nutrient deficiencies over time. It only benefits us to study up on our maintenance medications, and better yet, be working with a medical team that supports lifestyle change that may help make pharmaceutical support less necessary over time.