If your body starts aching when you’re stressed, you’re not the only one. For many people, stress or anxiousness isn’t just a mental thing, but also something physical.
If tension makes your belly ache
Perhaps it’s hard for you to eat when you’re tense, or your belly aches so much you have to run for the toilet. It’s perfectly explainable: stress makes your body get into an ancient reflex: fight or flight mode. The rush of adrenalin in your body changes your bloodstream and distribution of water, causing your bowels to contract.
So, what to do about it?
Focus on your breathing
Breathing exercises are a great method for handling tension. Once you’re able to relax, your belly will calm down. Breathe from your stomach, and teach your mind and body to relax.
Research shows that focusing on pain isn’t helpful. It’s better to distract yourself, for instance by reading – anything goes, sometimes the words on a shampoo bottle work perfectly.
Eating lots of fiber and drinking lots of water is always a good idea. In stressful times it’s better to forget about dairy products, coffee and alcohol for a while.
Tension may make you freeze. Besides, the thought of yet another help-I’ve-got-to-run-moment doesn’t make it tempting to leave the house. But it’s a shame if you let your belly keep you from doing the things you want. More importantly, exercise (walking, cycling, anything) makes your body and mind relax.
If tension causes headaches
Headaches caused by tension are a very common thing. For most people, the pain starts from the neck and moves its way to their head. You feel a pressing pain, often on both sides of your head. Scientists aren’t sure what causes it – some say tension headaches have to do with a convulsive position of your neck and shoulders, but lack of sleep can also contribute to it.
Mental relaxation is very important for people who suffer tension headaches. Meditation can be very helpful: it allows you to empty your mind.
Sniff lavender or mint
Scents can be very effective. Lavender is known for its relaxing effect, but mint can also be helpful (peppermint oil is a natural antidote to headaches – a few drips on the forehead can bring relief).
The outside is beneficial when you’re having a headache. Taking a walk can help to stretch and release your muscles.
Keep it cool
Put a wet cloth or a cold compress on your forehead and lie down for a while.
Other tricks for tense bodies
If you often suffer belly aches or headaches caused by stress (or if your body expresses it in another way, for instance with palpitations or a back ache), it’s wise to check the cause. What is it that causes this tension, and what can you do to handle it differently?
Exercise and sleep are always beneficial when you’re tense. Sitting a lot makes your body tight, lack of sleep will increase the tension. Plan breaks to take a walk, take time to rest.
If tension expresses itself in physical problems, the painful feeling can even increase the tension. ‘Oh no, a head ache, not again…’ Perhaps you start feeling angry with yourself, or you’re trying to fight the pain – only to find out it’s not helpful. It’s wise to try and accept the ways your body expresses stress, and to treat it kindly.
Text: Dorien Vrieling - Photo: Alexander Mils