If you deal with anxiety, you’re in good company. Anxiety affects over 40 million Americans, making it one of the most common illnesses in the U.S. Unfortunately, the causes and treatments are never the same. Anxiety does a number on your body. When you’re anxious, you’re more likely to be tense, which often means your muscles are more restrictive— causing you a great deal of pain. Common pain symptoms can include arthritis, migraines, inflammation and lower back pain.
Everyone deals with anxiety differently, but there are ways to help ease the tension.
Back Pain and Anxiety
While anxiety itself doesn’t cause back pain, the behaviors associated with anxiety often do. That’s because muscle tension and stress can affect your back by putting more pressure on your spine, which in turn puts more pressure on the joints, muscles and disks around it.
Although back pain affects almost all of us at some point, anxiety can play a key element in just how much pain someone feels. It makes sense: the more anxious you are, the more tense you’re likely to be. And the tenser you are, the more likely you are to feel pain.
The Relationship between Exercise and Anxiety
Your body was meant to be active, so when you don’t exercise, your body’s energy isn’t exerted. Instead it simply lays dormant. And when that energy isn’t able to come out physically, it can manifest itself in other ways, namely in the forms of stress and anxiety.
Practically any form of exercise can act as a stress reliever. In fact, Live Science recently conducted a study on how much energy you exert doing day-to-day household chores. The findings are actually pretty interesting; turns out doing a little work around the house DOES count as exercise. Vacuuming the carpet, pulling up weeds and dusting around the house can all help you break a sweat, and though they may not be as beneficial as traditional exercises like running, cycling and lifting weights, they still count as exercising.
Beating Anxiety by Staying Healthy
While anxiety may make it harder on your back, there are ways you can help alleviate the pain. Getting more physical activity increases your brain’s production of endorphins, the feel-good chemical; it can also improve your mood because exercising more in the day helps you sleep better at night. If you’re not up for running 10 miles a day in order to help improve your mood, don’t worry. There are plenty of other steps you can take that will help reduce back pain and hopefully ease your anxiety in the process.
1. Stretch Every Day
Before participating in any form of activity it’s important that you warm up by stretching properly. If you’re dealing with back pain, incorporating daily stretches that target your hips and lower back can help loosen up your back muscles and decrease pain. A few common stretches include:
- Heel Slides—Lie on your back with your legs stretched out. Slowly bend one knee and bring it up to your chest. Hold for 10-20 seconds, then straighten your leg out. Switch legs and repeat.
- Heel Raises—Standing straight with both feet firmly on the ground, slowly raise your heels up, hold for a few seconds, and then put them down. You can either lean against a wall or hold on to a rail for extra support and balance.
- Straight Leg Raises—Again, lie on back with one leg bent and one straight. While tightening your abdominals, slowly lift your straight leg off the ground and hold for 1-10 seconds. Slowly lower your leg and repeat.
2. Improve Your Posture
One of the leading causes of back pain is poor posture. There are many reasons why your posture may be off; spending hours hunched over a computer screen, carrying a heavy backpack around every day, even the way you walk are all known to affect your posture. Luckily, there are ways you can improve it. Take a look at a new infographic on simple steps you can take to help improve your posture.
3. Sleep More
Having trouble sleeping at night? If so, you’re not alone. While 6-8 hours’ worth of sleep a night is considered the norm, the Better Sleep Council says 48% of Americans aren’t sleeping that much. A lack of sleep can lead to a whole slew of health-related problems, including lower back pain. It can also alter your mood. If you’re finding yourself constantly yawning throughout the day, try going to bed a little earlier at night. Here are a few tips:
- Turning off all electronics and hour or two before you go to bed may help you sleep better. Staring at a computer screen before bed has proven to be detrimental to your sleep cycle, as the artificial light emulating from your computer screen, iPad or cell phone has been known to keep you up at night.
- Limiting your caffeine intake may also help you sleep better at night. Believe it or not, the effects of caffeine can stay in your body for up to 8 hours, so if you’re still drinking coffee in the afternoon, you might want to switch to decaf.
- If you’re constantly napping throughout the day, you might want to stop. Afternoon napping makes it harder for you to fall asleep at night. So while power napping may help in the afternoon, it’s not going to help you fall asleep come nighttime.
4. Eat Healthier
Your diet plays a huge role in your health. In fact, certain foods have actually been found to help lessen the effects of anxiety. Foods like turkey, bananas and peanut butter are all rich in tryptophan, which is an amino acid that actually helps you feel good. Tryptophan calms your nerves, which can then make it easier for you to relax. Other foods like walnuts and salmon are also great at helping reduce anxiety, as their omega-3 fatty acids have been known to help improve your mood and brain functionality.
If nothing else, the key takeaway here is that living a healthier lifestyle can help reduce your level of stress, which in turn may be able to reduce your anxiety and back pain. Eating healthy, exercising more and altering your sleep habits are all proven ways to help reduce anxiety, which can also reduce back pain.