Stress Sucks. Losing your back to it is even worse. Friday morning, my right-side back and upper glute muscles began spasming such that my mobility was greatly limited that day. I stretched often and moved appropriately, hoping that I would be fine after a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, the muscles of my entire lumbo pelvic-hip complex started spasming so badly in the middle of the night that I was in a lot of pain on Saturday morning. My softer mattress didn’t help, but that’s good for another post. This is more about the WHAT???!!! I don’t have time for this; and the fact that when your body is reacting like mine was, it is speaking to you.
Do you know what to do in times like this?
I’ll take you through my personal habits so that you can get a feel for how I handle stress, injuries that occur as a result and the recovery process. Your body will be unique to you, so feel free to ask me about your specific exercise questions.
- Coping: I am an internalizer. I’d say any one of us could experience physical manifestations of stress, but the person who is most extroverted and emotionally expressive likely gets stuff out of his system before it becomes a truly physical overload. Knowing this about myself, I do the best I can to maintain a balance between internalizing and externalizing. My go-to at this point in my life is talking through things as soon as I know there’s an issue, and being physically active because that externalizes the stuff that can weigh me down.
- Regular Self Care: You already know that I train regularly, but this is something that should be noted in stress and injury care: If you don’t have a consistent habit of nutrition, strength, cardio and flexibility training, then your body is not going to know what “normal” feels like. Without that baseline, your body is already compromised during stress.
- Medical Care: If you don’t have a solid list of specialists, then you might be missing a link in your maintenance chain. No, everything shouldn’t be dealt with through drugs and care visits, but remember that well-rounded practitioners can help keep us balanced. This might mean everything from chiropractors and general physicians to acupuncturists and massage therapists.
- Sleeping: Rest is absolute if we want our bodies and minds to unwind and process the crap of the day. Without regular sleep, and during times of intensive processing, you run great risk of physical perturbation. I do everything in my power to wall off time for good, relaxing and restorative sleep.
- Warm Baths: If I know that I am going to need bigger recovery after a workout or a mentally exhausting day, then I reserve time for a warm bath with Epsom salts to help relax muscle tissues.
- Off-Kilter: Do you know when your body is out-of-whack? It’s important to be in tune enough with your body that you know when things are beginning to go awry. Warning signs abound and it’s important to take action early, rather than letting things pile up until your body gives out. I do my best to address situations, get back onto a schedule and keep my maintenance phase intact when I see things beginning to tilt off the high-wire.
- What to address? Do you know what is causing warning signs when they come up? I know that if I start losing sleep regularly, feeling frustrated, not recovering from workouts, etc., then it’s time to heed the warning signs and get to the heart of the issue. Sometimes there are several things going on. In this instance, I have enough personal needs that I’m juggling, busy hours at work and less “pleasure” time in the last three months. I also have some daily habit changes. I got new shoes in the last three weeks. I have needed to write more and have been seated longer than I’d like. I have clients that are progressing and need more hands-on spotting. All of these things affect how my body works. It’s not a perfect science because many things leave the question open for what is precipitating your physical imbalance. But, learning the warning signs and taking time to assess will help you to cue in on the bigger issues.
- Chicken or Egg? Is your stress causing your physical symptoms or is your ailment causing your stress? This stuff is cyclical. I’m a huge advocate for “heading it off at the pass” so that it can’t spiral out of control. If you think that your body might be what’s causing the cycle of stress and injury, see somebody who can help you locate the physical issue. If you need help identifying the non-physical stressor, be open to seeking professional help for it as well. We all need tune-ups in every aspect of life. No shame in that.
- Change! I do not want this to be my everyday state, so I put my foot down. You? How long will you let something go on before you get to its source? Remember complaining never makes forward headway. It’s always lateral.
- Pull the plug: If I know that I’ve gone too far and my body is suffering, I’ll stop and go in another direction regardless of what it means I’m missing as a result. I don’t have time for my long term health to fall victim to the cycles of stress, anxiety, physical manifestations and limitations. These things will happen on their own without my help. My goal in change is to restore my maintenance phase as quickly as possible. If that isn’t viable, then I’m going to re-direct my energies (time off work, time of personal detachment, time seeking help, time to deal) until a middle ground is reached again.
- Professional Treatment: We’ve already discussed this, but on Saturday I was faced with a few options and it being the weekend, wasn’t exactly sure who I’d call. I went with a massage therapist who had timing that met my needs perfectly. I considered a visit to my chiropractor and/or myofascial release specialist during business hours this week if I didn’t progress.
- Foam Rolling and Stretching: In posts (here and here) last week I described how important myofascial release is to my daily life; but in a time of injury, the priority raises. I am not going to aim for personal records in my strength training; I’m going to aim for physical stability and mobility. Helping spasming muscles to relax is a large part of that.
- Stop Sitting: Our bodies really don’t love sitting for longer periods of time and if I’m in this state I almost remove it altogether. I will even kneel or stand in front of my computer so that I’m using my muscles to hold my body, rather than the chair. Also, it keeps from direct pressure on the lower spine. I change positions often.
- Walking: Walking is the most natural thing that we can do. It is a very natural way to help your glutes to contract appropriately so they protect your lower back. Walking helps your stomach to elevate your spine, so that you aren’t “crunching” down on your sacrum. Walking stretches out your hip flexors and hamstrings, muscles that become over-tightened, compromising your spine. I made frequent and longer walks through this weekend. This keeps me from losing more mobility to muscles that get restricted after hours of spasms.
- Lying: Sometimes the best thing you can do for an over-worked body is lay it out on a fairly flat surface. My bed is too soft. My recliner leaves me upright enough that there is still pressure being borne into my tailbone. Lying on the floor with my legs propped up gives my body time to relax without the burden of holding itself in any one position for very long. I also used this time to keep a massage ball beneath my lower spine, switching sides occasionally so that I was always sending the signal to that area that it could relax.
- Exercising: My upcoming article will detail my exercise choices in the last several days. Many people feel that they must stop exercising when there is a physical issue. I disagree. We definitely need down-time to recuperate. A few days off training can be restorative. But know your limits. Often too much time without training starts that cycle downward of your body not feeling a release of tension, or a challenge to support itself better. I know my goals, and don’t want to lose a lot of ground, so I don’t stop moving unless I really need to. I move at a different level. This is what’s important. I might be at “Level 0″ in training, but I’m letting my body know I still need it functioning. I honor its need for healing and rest a lot more, but I don’t let myself become stiffened and immobilized by a cease of exercise. Where I would have been biking and climbing more heavily last weekend, I did a lot of walking, a lot of lying down to watch movies and two simple training sessions Friday and Monday.
This is a bit of a glimpse into my dealing with stress. Stay tuned to see the exercises I chose for lumbar stability. Above all, manage your stress and love your body!