Oct 14, 2008
Exercise, exercise, exercise! It seems counterintuitive to exercise with pain or fatigue, but I promise it works. A walk (especially if it’s a beautiful day outside) or even a jog, some stretching, or anything that warms up the muscles and uses them will generally loosen them up enough to allow relief. In addition, the endorphins produced by the body during exercise will often clear pain from you body and mind.. Also, if you’re exercising, you’re probably getting away from any major source of the tension, whatever it is. That always helps.
Yoga, my personal passion, is unbeatable for stress relief (in my opinion, of course). It is a combination of exercise and relaxation therapy that soothes the mind, body and spirit. You’re warming and loosening the muscles in a way that almost no other exercise can match, while focusing your mind on breathing and being very present.
An interesting and more unusual tip is to have a selection of photos you find very soothing and relaxing. If you enjoy the beach, a set of pictures of a sunny, sandy paradise might work, or if (like me) you’re a deep-forest kind of gal, some photos of a green, leafy glade could do the trick. Spend a few moments just looking at the photos and visualizing yourself in that place. With practice you will find that just looking at the photos can produce an instant calming effect. It’s all about burning new neural pathways and making your brain associate the pictures with the relaxation. Practice this when you have time on your hands – looking at the photos in conjunction with deep breathing, dim lights, and some soothing music. Then when you are very tense, you’ve got the response already ingrained.
There are of course things you want to avoid (if you can!) when suffering from tension and/or pain. Some are obvious – loud noise, uncomfortable situations, and the company of anyone who makes you more tense. Some are not so obvious: caffeine, for instance, while it may seem to help fatigue, can actually increase tension and raise blood pressure. Brightly lit areas or very vivid warm colors like red or orange will exacerbate your attention. So, you know, avoid Target and Home Depot. J Blues and greens are very soothing and lower light levels will also help lower blood pressure and heart rate, and alleviate tension and/or pain. (Which should mean Wal-Mart is a good place to go when you have tension, but believe me, that is not the case. So. Not. The. Case.)
My personal method of dealing with tension and pain? First I stretch my arms and shoulders. Then I close my office door, turn off the lights, and close my eyes. I take about ten minutes to just focus on my breathing, even if I don’t do a full meditation, and let the thoughts that have been bothering me exit my head the same way they entered, just focusing on my breathing. Then I do a short self-massage. When I feel I’ve relaxed as much as I can, I get up and go get a glass of water, which I drink pretty much nonstop. And then I repeat to myself, “je ne regrette rien” – in French, loosely translated, “I regret nothing”. This is to remind myself that at the end of my life, I will have no regrets, because I will have lived every moment for the joy and beauty it has and wasted no time or energy on the things that don’t really matter. Because of its personal meaning for me, this is a sort of mantra that helps me release the tension and focus on the positives. (And no, this doesn’t actually interfere with my productivity, because I lose a lot more than this 15 minutes worth of efficiency when I am in pain.)
Old stand bys like massage...some great massage units out there like the shiatzu by hoedics, but human touch can sometimes mean more than the actual massage, heat for tightness and ice for pain and swelling, the jacuzzi...ahhhhhhhhh..even hot baths with candles and music. Sometimes if there is a stressor in your life that can be eliminated as not all stressors can be, it can be worthwhile to cut it loose.
In the end, your stress and tension are unique to you, and your best method of dealing with them will be, too. I hope that some of the above information might be helpful to you in finding a method that works for you, at least some of the time.
If you do have to take something – and let’s face it, sometimes, you just do – my personal preference for this type of pain is either ibuprofen or naproxen sodium. Or it was, before I decided to be allergic to them. They seem to work better for muscle tension than acetaminophen. At all costs, avoid Excedrin and Goody powders, because it does contain caffeine and while it might help the pain at first, it’s not going to help get rid of the tension.
Of course, before you take ANY medication, check to be sure that you are not allergic to any of the ingredients, that you don’t have a medical condition that makes it inadvisable, and that there are no side effects you can’t live with. It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor.