Many people who have chronic pain also struggle with stress and tension. Chronic stress can cause a number of problems ranging from irritability, depressed mood, lack of productivity or insomnia. One of the best antidotes to stress is exercise, which can be challenging for folks who have chronic pain.
But even if you are exercising (and certainly if you aren't) that may not be enough to remove all of your stress. We almost always need to look at other lifestyle factors (like reducing caffeine and other stimulants) as well as other techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing, guided relaxation practices and mindfulness meditation practices. What follows are some basic videos that people can watch in order to learn how to use these techniques to help with anxiety.
The first link is for teaching diaphragmatic breathing. Some people call it "belly breathing". The reason it's helpful to learn this technique is that if you can fully engage your diaphragm by doing this type of breathing it stimulates the parasympathetic part of your nervous system. That part of the nervous system is what causes your body to relax. If you have been stressed out then your nervous system most likely is sympathetically activated, meaning that the sympathetic branch of the nervous system is dominant. This part of the nervous system (the sympathetic branch) dumps a lot of adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormone) into your bloodstream which causes symptoms of anxiety like shallow breathing, sweating, hot flashes, increased heart rate, stomach upset, headaches, muscle tension, etc. The way to stop this stress response is to activate the parasympathetic nervous system by doing diaphragmatic breathing.
This link will give you a super simple explanation of diaphragmatic breathing :
This link will show you a person doing diaphragmatic breathing so you can follow along and practice it:
This next one is a specific pattern of breathing that also activates the relaxation response and this is another good tool for turning off the stress pattern if you have started to feel anxious:
You can also do the diaphragmatic breathing with a 4-7-8 pattern, or if you prefer you can use any pattern where you exhale longer than you inhale (so for example inhale for 5, hold for 2, exhale for 6, or any other variation as long as the exhale is longer than the inhale).
In order to maximize benefit you should try to practice some form of relaxation breathing at least 2x/day for at least 5 minutes each time. Once you have the hang of it you can increase to up to 10 min each day. Many folks make one of those times when getting ready to fall asleep. It can help you relax and fall asleep if anxiety tends to keep you awake.
The next tool in the anti-stress arsenal are mindfulness meditations. These have been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, improve concentration and attention and even improve control over your emotions. Studies show that doing this just 11 minutes each day will produce actual structural changes in the brain (increased activity of the frontal lobe). It helps reduce symptoms of ADHD, depression and anxiety as well as increasing emotional control.
At first you should probably just try 3-4 minutes of mindfulness at a time. Doing too much at once can make it annoying and then you might get turned off to it. Try to start with 3-4 minutes each day and after a few days add another minute, do that for a few days, then add another minute and so on. Eventually you will want to do at least 11 minutes each day of mindfulness meditation.
All of the following videos have good technique so you can try them all and see which ones you like. You can also search yourself on youtube for other ones. But remember even if the video is 20 or 30 minutes just do 3-4 minutes at first. You will not be able to empty your mind, it is totally normal to have thoughts intruding constantly. That's fine. The goal is just to notice the thoughts and then let them go. I think of them like people walking into the room and I notice them and say "hi" and then let them walk away and I let them go. The goal is not really to empty your whole mind because the human brain does not work that way. It's just the process of acknowledging the thoughts and letting them go that builds the brain in the areas that benefit you.
And finally here are links to guided imagery for sleep. These are great to help you fall asleep. You just start playing it when you lay down to sleep and usually folks fall asleep before the whole program finishes.
If you don't like any of these you can search with keywords "guided imagery for sleep" or "hypnosis for sleep" to try some other ones. You can also specify in your search male or female voice, music vs. nature sounds, etc.
If you have other youtube videos that you have found useful for managing anxiety or for falling asleep we would love to hear about it! Send Restore Fx an email or post your comment below.
Thanks and stay tuned to more ideas on managing symptoms of stress without medications.
Dr. Jordan and the team at Restore Fx
Krista Jordan, Ph.D., ABPP