Stress and anxiety – why they cause shoulder and neck pain
You’ve got a huge meeting at work today, the kids had a tantrum over breakfast, and you’ve just realized you’ve got to book the car in for a service. But first, you need something for that sore neck of yours!
Got aching shoulders and neck pain? Stress and anxiety might be to blame. Four out of five adults admit to feeling stressed once a month, with money, health, and family being some of the biggest stressors.
So, how do stress and anxiety contribute to those aches and pains?
- Stress can result in muscle tension and tightness – this is a natural response and is the body’s way of guarding against injury. The longer we experience stress, the longer our muscles stay tense.
- We tend to make ourselves smaller and more unnoticeable when stressed, bringing our head down and arms closer to the body. This can have an adverse effect on our posture, causing aches and pains.
- Some people hyperventilate when they’re nervous or anxious. This is when they breathe more than needed, often with lots of shallow breaths. As a result, less oxygen flows around the body, leading to cramps and spasms in places like the neck and shoulders.
- When stressed, we don’t sleep as well as we should. Sleep is essential for healing and repair, with disturbed sleep patterns leading to pain and aching muscles.
If you’re suffering from a sore neck and shoulders, improving your stress levels can make you feel better and help reduce pain. Here are some of our top tips:
- Engage in regular exercise. Exercise reduces levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, and releases endorphins, which help you relax. Even a quick 15-minute walk can make all the difference!
- Take steps to improve your posture. Studies have shown that adopting a neutral posture with a gentle curve in the spine, can boost your mood, reduce stress, and improve your confidence.
- Focus on your breathing. If you start to feel stressed or anxious, close your eyes and take slow deep breaths.
- Identify what is causing you stress and what you can do to reduce its impact. For example, if the commute to work is causing issues, ask your manager if you can work from home or work different hours.
- Take regular breaks and find time for self-care. This could be an hour to read your favorite book, watch your favorite show on Netflix, or walk the dog in the forest.
- Find a stress management technique that works for you. This can be yoga or meditation, a professional massage, or even journalling.
- Get a consistent sleep schedule in place. Try and go to sleep and get up at the same time each day, avoid using phones just before bed, and limit your intake of caffeine.
We all experience stress from time to time. By managing it as best we can, we can limit the negative health effects, including pain in the body.
If you’re struggling with chronic neck or shoulder pain or find that stress is causing serious health problems, please get in touch with your GP.