After such a challenging year, it’s no wonder our bodies are feeling it! Here, mind-body experts share their tricks proven to nix stress and ease pain-triggering tension.
Headaches? Nod Yes and No
Like pressure building up in a tea kettle, stress accumulates in the jaw, neck and shoulders, leading to tension headaches, reveals Dawn C. Buse, PhD. “Just 15 seconds of stretching every half hour helps prevent this,” she says. “Relax the muscles and arteries in your neck by slowly nodding ‘yes’ and ‘no.’” Buse recommends setting a timer to remind yourself to stretch every half hour — if you lean over a desk, just lean back. “Doing the opposite of what you habitually do can nix stress.”
Relax away pain: “Women who suffer frequent headaches have a hyperreactive nervous system,” says Buse. “But practicing relaxation techniques, like progressive muscle relaxation, boosts the parasympathetic nervous system, warding off headaches.” Just curl your toes and tense your feet, breathe in, hold for 10 seconds, then exhale and relax; continue up your body, tensing and relaxing muscle groups. “As you exhale, feel tension leave your body.”
Stomach ugh? SHIELD Yourself
“A lot of stomach aches are linked to stress and how we feel about ourselves,” notes Eva Selhub, MD. That’s why she recommends guided imagery as a way to tap into pain-relieving feel-good chemicals. Dr. Selhub’s stress-melting SHIELD technique stands for: Slow down; Honor your feelings; Inhale through your nose; Exhale through your mouth; Listen to your thoughts; Decide to shift out of stress. “Imagine a warm light moving into your mind and body, healing you, while repeating, ‘I am enough; I have enough,’” says Dr. Selhub. “This visualization has helped almost everyone I work with.”
Boost ‘good bugs’: There’s an entire community of microbes in your gut, and keeping the “good guys” healthy and happy keeps you healthy and happy. “Feeding good gut bacteria with fiber-rich foods and prebiotics, such as garlic, broccoli, and jicama, is key to boosting energy and regulating your mood and stress levels,” says Amy Shah, MD, explaining that when good bacteria gobble up prebiotics, the process tamps down stress hormones and releases compounds that ward off gas, bloat and cramps.
Always tired? Reset Your ‘Body Clock’
An incredible 80 percent of our body’s functions rely on the day and night sleep cycle known as the circadian rhythm, says Dr. Shah. Eating late at night, for example, can send our body mixed signals, making us feel exhausted. “Wrapping up your meals two to three hours before bed makes a big difference, telling your body it’s time to release the melatonin you need to sleep, and sending your liver and pancreas into repair mode, which boosts energy significantly.”
See the light: “When you’re worried, spending just one minute in the morning to ground yourself can lift you for the whole day,” says Dr. Shah, who recommends standing outside and getting direct sunlight, which she explains helps you think more clearly and dials up energy levels. “Take in this time for you,” Dr. Shah says. “You’ll begin to let go of the burdens that cause stress, fatigue and body aches.”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.