I have had bad neck and shoulder pain since my early 20’s. It wasn’t until a year or two ago that I put the pieces together; whenever my neck and shoulder pain got worse, it was because my stress levels were off the charts.
When I started doing yoga, practicing mindfulness, and generally taking better care of myself, my neck problems got better! They aren’t completely gone, but lifestyle changes did make a huge difference.
Most people think of stress as an emotional or mental state. Stress is associated with worry, overthinking, and racing thoughts. When we’re stressed, we may feel overwhelmed and frustrated.
But stress isn’t just about thoughts and emotions; it also manifests in the body, in a huge variety of ways. Physical signs and symptoms that are stress-related, can often be helped by reducing stress levels.
Today, I’m going to outline four physical signs of stress that people often don’t realize are stress-related. That’s not to say that stress alone causes these symptoms, but in each case, there is a significant relationship. Meaning that the problem may already exist, and stress could exacerbate it.
Surprising Sign #4: Rapid heartbeat, aka heart palpitations. Every year, many people go to the ER because they believe they may be having a cardiac event, only to find out they are having a panic attack. True story. If you’re experiencing rapid heartbeat and aren’t sure why, consider whether you are experiencing other common signs of stress and anxiety, like sweaty palms, racing thoughts, and altered breathing. It may well be anxiety.
- How to cope with rapid heartbeat: Try breathing in through your nose slowly to the count of 4, and breathing out through your mouth slowly to the count of 8. You could search for “guided meditation relaxation” on YouTube. There you will be able to access hundreds of free meditations, which can lead to slower heart rate.
Surprising Sign #3: Neck, shoulder, and back pain – When people experience stress and anxiety, it is very common to tense muscles, often without even realizing they are doing it. In many cases, pain in the neck, back and shoulders is caused by this muscle tension, which is caused by stress. You can find out more about the link between anxiety and muscle pain here.
- How to cope with neck and shoulder pain: Try neck stretches. Pull your shoulders down and away from your ears. Imagine the muscles in your neck and shoulders softening. Ice packs and heating pads work wonders.
Surprising Sign #2: Eczema – Also known as dermatitis, eczema refers to dry, itchy skin, rashes, and swelling. Although stress does not necessarily cause eczema, research shows that there is a correlation. Stress can trigger flare-ups in people who already have eczema. Read more about the connection between eczema here.
- How to cope with eczema: Use prescription creams and medications for eczema. If you don’t have these already, see a doctor for recommendations. Anything that you typically do to cope with stress, such as exercise, meditation, or talking to a therapist, can help also. See this Mayo Clinic article for even more ideas.
Surprising Sign #1: Irritable bowels (constipation or diarrhea) – If you’ve ever stopped pooping a few days before a big exam, you’re not alone! Stress has a definite correlation with the digestive system. According to WebMD, over half of people with IBS meet the criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder, and there is a particularly large overlap with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
- How to cope with irritable bowels: Changing your diet can help; in particular, avoid fatty and fried foods, and dairy. Yoga and taking walks can be beneficial, as well as any other stress reduction techniques you have in your toolbelt. See this site for more information on treatment options for IBS.
How do you take care of your body when you’re stressed? Comment below to let me know!
If you need more ideas for stress reduction, see my article about free self-care techniques.
Rebecca is a licensed therapist who practices telehealth counseling in Illinois. Rebecca empowers therapy clients to cope with anxiety, depression, self-esteem, and relationship problems using their natural strengths and inner wisdom.
To learn more about becoming a therapy client, contact me.