Keeping up with news updates. Maybe working from home. Waiting in long lines at grocery stores. Dealing with upended plans and many uncertainties. It’s enough to make anyone feel tense.
It’s a challenging time right now as the world navigates the COVID-19 virus. If you’re feeling stressed and anxious, it’s very understandable and completely normal right now. And if you’ve already been dealing with back pain, you probably know firsthand how stress and worry can increase muscle tension.(1) This can lead to more back pain.(2)
Certain things are out of our control (like exactly when the virus will turn a corner for the better). But there are many things that are in our control, like how we address anxiety. This can have a big influence on back pain, as well as overall health.(2-4)
It’s definitely possible to find some calm in chaos. By addressing anxiety, you can break the chain reaction of stress making back pain worse. Plus, when you commit to creating more calm, both your mind and your back will benefit. It’s a win-win situation!
Here are 10 tips to soothe your mind—and back:
1. Practice relaxation techniques daily in your Kaia app, such as breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness, and guided visualization. These relaxation techniques can help calm your mind and keep you in the present moment (instead of getting too caught up in worry about the future). What’s more, relaxation techniques not only calm your mind—they also help melt muscle tension, which reduces back pain. FYI: You’ll need to do relaxation exercises daily for 2 weeks before you’ll start noticing a difference. Then, for best long-term results, keep doing them daily.(4)
2. Practice yoga techniques like 4-7-8 breathing to combat stress. This simple technique works quickly to help you relax. It can also be very useful for insomnia, which can become an issue when dealing with extra stress and back pain. Plus, 4-7-8 breathing can be done anywhere. The only equipment you need is your own body!
3. Keep moving: Do your Kaia exercises and take walks. Remember, not moving can make back pain get worse. As long as you keep 6 feet of distance from others, getting some movement and fresh air can work wonders for your back and your mind. A large 2018 study demonstrated that people who walked had 10% fewer self-reported low-mood days than people who didn’t walk. People who did other forms of exercise (like team sports, cycling, and aerobic exercise) had 43% fewer “blah” days!(5)
4. Get your zzzzs. You probably already know that getting enough sleep is important for overall health and mood. Studies also indicate that there’s a link between lack of sleep and increased back pain, so be sure to get plenty, now and always.(6) Getting enough sleep can also help you to better cope with challenges.
5. Find ways to keep positive. When dealing with stress and uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to do things that uplift you. Find creative ways to stay connected to people to feel supported. Do activities you enjoy, like reading, arts and crafts, or hobbies. Make a “gratitude list” of things you’re grateful for (even little things). In one study, people who wrote a few lines daily about what they felt grateful for reported feeling more optimistic than those who didn’t keep tabs on their gratitude. It gets better: The gratitude list makers also exercised more than those who didn’t log their daily gratitude.(7)
6. Check in with your feelings and needs. Mounting anxiety and a fast-moving news cycle can distract you from regularly checking in with yourself. Feelings are clues for what you need physically and emotionally. For instance, feeling lonely can mean that you need support. When you’re aware of how you feel and what you need, anxiety has less of a chance of turning into full-blown panic. This is because working to meet your needs as much as you can helps to keep your “emotional fuel tank” full.
7. Take action to address your feelings and needs. Related to #6 above, once you identify the need underneath the feeling, you can take action to help meet that need. Of course, you may not always be able to get your needs met 100% of the time, but you can try to do your best. Using the example above, once you identify needing support, you can then make an action plan and follow through on it. For instance, you might make a bullet list of friends and family to reach out to online or by phone and schedule some “chat dates” on your calendar.
8. Eat a well-rounded diet, including protein, fat, and fiber. This can help to keep blood sugar and moods more even.(8) Fueling your body with healthy food will also help you to be more resilient in the face of stress.
9. Stay hydrated, as even mild dehydration can affect mood.(9) This will also help your Kaia workouts to go more smoothly and be more effective.
10. Set boundaries. This applies to many areas, including setting personal limits, following health and safety guidelines, and minding your exposure to the news cycle. Working from home may require you to set personal boundaries with your employer to ensure work-life balance. If you take a walk outside, you might need to politely remind someone to keep 6 feet of distance. And while it’s important to keep informed, be wary of information overload. Choose certain times of the day to catch up on the latest. Then, be sure to spend time doing other healthy, rewarding activities.
It’s more important than ever to take care of your mind and body. Feeling anxious and on edge is understandable—so use tools such as the ones listed above to stay centered. Your back-health routine and self-care can be as strong as ever right now.
1. Pluess M, Conrad A, Wilhelm FH. Muscle tension in generalized anxiety disorder: a critical review of the literature. J Anxiety Disord. 2009;23(1):1-11.
2. Harvard Medical School. The pain-anxiety-depression connection. Harvard Health Publishing website. https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/the-pain-anxiety-depression-connection. Accessed March 17, 2020.
3. American Psychological Association. Stress weakens the immune system. American Psychological Association website. https://www.apa.org/research/action/immune. Published February 23, 2006. Accessed March 17, 2020.
4. Mayo Clinic. Stress management. Mayo Clinic website. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/relaxation-technique/art-20045368. Published April 19, 2017. Accessed March 17, 2020.
5. Chekroud SR, Gueorguieva R, Zheutlin AB, et al. Association between physical exercise and mental health in 1·2 million individuals in the USA between 2011 and 2015: a cross-sectional study. Lancet Psychiatry. 2018;5(9):739-746.
6. Alsaadi SM, Mcauley JH, Hush JM, et al. The bidirectional relationship between pain intensity and sleep disturbance/quality in patients with low back pain. Clin J Pain. 2014;30(9):755-765.
7. Emmons RA, Mccullough ME. Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2003;84(2):377-389.
8. Aucoin M, Bhardwaj S. Generalized anxiety disorder and hypoglycemia symptoms improved with diet modification. Case Rep Psychiatry. 2016;2016:7165425.
9. Sawchuk CN. Coping with anxiety: can diet make a difference? Mayo Clinic FAQ website. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder/expert-answers/coping-with-anxiety/faq-20057987). Accessed March 17, 2020.
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