Stress and the Inseparable Body-Mind-Soul













Yesterday, a friend of mine got a "crick in his neck". His neck had been slightly stiff for the past few days, and he had a restless night the night before. Yesterday morning he had some grabbing pain in the morning especially when he would turn his head to the left. As the day went on it got worse to where most movements would cause intense neck pain and he was unable to turn his head. He finally had to cancel the rest of his afternoon and have a colleague drive him home. He was afraid to drive because every time he turned his head or would go around a corner his neck pain would intensify.

There was really "not much" reason for him to develop this neck problem except that he had "been very busy and under a lot of stress lately". He had just moved his office into a new office condominium. Although things were going relatively well he had been working six or seven days a week for almost 2 months. There were the usual hassles of problems with the poor quality of work done on the laying of the carpet and base covering, computer systems that weren't networking right and getting the other bugs worked out of getting organized in the new place. During this time his family had also come to visit. The last straw seemed to be that the owner of the space that he was leasing was requesting unreasonable compensation for minor, usual wear and tear to the old office. They were unable to come to an agreement, even though my friend offered to repair the damage or compensate him at a more commensurate rate, and they parted with the words of "I guess that I will see you in court".

It seems like the stress of so much going on, being so busy and working out so many conflicts finally took its toll. His body finally said "that's enough, I'm going to make you take time out, and further more to take time for yourself and ask for help from others". I often have patients who feel that their problems (neuromusculoskeletal) seem related to stress. They ask me if that is possible. I tell them that if they feel that their problems are made worse by stress then that must be true. To admit that our physical problems are related to stress seems some how to diminish their validity. Saying that something is related to stress seems to mean that you do not actually have tight muscles and joints, an irritated nerve, high blood pressure, an ulcer or any of the other myriad of physical problems that seem to be related to stress but that somehow that it is "all in your head".

Stress is an amorphous thing that seems to tower over us and control many of our lives. I am sure that with each person I talked to I could get a different definition of stress. We are stressed if we are working too much. We are stressed if we are working too little. We are stressed if we are doing the wrong kind of work, or with the wrong people, or with too much pressure or too little time. We are stressed by family situations, if the children are annoying, if our parents need more help or if there is yard work or house work to be done. We are stressed by the government, and by not being in control of our lives. As varied as the causes of stress are the cures, they are even more diverse. We go on vacation, take a day off, do some physical activity, go fishing, do bio-feedback, do relaxation, do yoga, meditate.

The body-mind-soul continuum is affected by stress. When we parcel out "it is all in your mind" or this is a physical problem or this is a spiritual event we diminish the whole. When we say that stress, or life circumstance and lessons only affect a certain aspect of our being we diminish ourselves.

As I work with people on the physical mechanical level I try to help them explore what other things might be contributing to their problems. I was working with retired woman who was having severe back pain and a nerve root irritation that caused severe leg pain. She was to the point that she was having to use a walker to unload the spine and be able to walk. As we worked together on her back problem which was looking like a degenerated disc causing the low back pain and nerve irritation she was very slow to improve. At one point we were talking about her situation. She related that her husband had Alzheimer's disease and she was having more trouble taking care of him and managing their financial and other affairs. She also felt that she had been cheated out of her nice retirement years with him. As she was able to acknowledge these different issues in her life she was better able to deal with them and with her back problem. This also seemed like the turning point of when her back problem started to improve. I'm happy to say that she is now able to play golf and enjoy her normal activities.

Another retired woman had back and knee pain due to degenerative arthritis. It had gotten to the point that it interfered with her walking and general activity. Her knees did not straighten out or bend all the way and were painful with these motions. Her back joints were also restricted and painful as she moved them and her back and leg muscles were weak. I told her what I tell many people with arthritis. It is a frightening term and that we often interpret it as a deceleration of doom, but that if we can improve the mechanics of the joints and get them moving well and strengthen the muscles around the joints people will often feel better. There are many of people running around with degenerative arthritis (wear and tear) that do not have significant pain and perhaps do not even know it. This woman also acknowledged that her husband had passed away not long ago and that she was grieving this, plus the stress of moving and taking care of their business affairs. But more importantly, she was feeling guilty that she was able to go on with her life and actually enjoy a social life without him. In realizing what was going on emotionally as well as getting her muscles stronger and joints moving better she was able to turn the corner and have less pain and increase her activity. She is traveling to Europe this month on a trip that will involve a lot of waking.

I'm waiting for the day when it is the same insult to say "it is all in your body " as it is today to say "it is all in your mind". We are an inseparable body-mind-soul-spirit.


Written by Krista J. Clark, PT



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