July 22, 2013

Reducing Stress: Doctor’s Orders

This post written on steroids. Beware disjointed thoughts and watch out for non sequiturs. Perhaps I should have gone with a bullet list approach instead of trying to force paragraphs that don’t really connect everything going through my mind right now?

This weekend I stuck around Dallas instead of flying home. Although I was “stuck” in Dallas, I actually had a super fun weekend with Blake and her husband JP – checking out a new-to-me pizza place with some other friends, karaoking (aha, a fun activity that my back doesn’t preclude me from!) and playing “Audiovisual Team Lead” to find instructional YouTube videos while they retiled a room in their new house. (That’s not sarcasm; it actually was a lot of fun and I learned a lot that I am now planning to apply to redoing the tile backsplash in my own new house.)

“Did I do that?” Unfortunately not – I was not allowed to use either the crowbar or the jackhammer; just my camera. Stupid slipped discs taking the fun out of everything.

Other than that, nothing big was happening that I would have planned to stay for (although I was lucky enough to pick the weekend that a coworker was celebrating his birthday); I just got way too tense on Monday after flying, and didn’t want to have to sit on a plane again. Traveling every week for work can seem glamorous, but it definitely has its consequences as far as stress and muscle tension.

Although I had fun most of the weekend, on Sunday I got one simple email that was rather critical, and my hackles went up. Literally. I could feel my upper back muscles seize, and within an hour, my back started hurting like crazy – this time on the right side instead of the left, where it used to be. (Bonus of having slipped discs going both directions: you get the fun surprise of never knowing which side is going to hurt! Apparently the left side is “work stressors” and the right side is “family stressors.”) I tried my best to stretch it out and ease the tension, including with my newly acquired Theracane, which is every bit as ridiculous a piece of equipment as it sounds. These pictures say it all – and I think their stupidity shows you why I will not be sharing pictures of myself using it, despite how much it helps.

Okay, fine, I guess head on isn’t too creepy-looking. I LOVE MY THERACANE!

Yesterday and today, though, the Theracane didn’t help enough. Its effects would last for a few minutes, and then I’d think about the stressor again, and I’d be right back where I started. I’m honestly a little bit surprised that I didn’t have more control over my mind and its focus – you would think marathons provide plenty of mental training in “ignoring the pain and focusing on what’s ahead”! In this case, though, I just kept dwelling, and getting more and more stressed out. More than being frustrated at my inability to control my attention/attitude, though, I was amazed to see exactly how possible it is for mental stress to manifest in physical ways, as surely as if I had slept with a rod jammed into my shoulder blade. It is definitely time for me to reevaluate my mental health and figure out how to fix/deal with these stressors in a healthier way!

So how to fix it? Well, I haven’t quite solved that problem yet – beyond searching for a psychologist to join the rest of my ever-growing team of doctors. It’s so frustrating to me that anything stressful actually hurts me physically – it makes me feel like I’m being lazy or a baby because I can’t deal with simple requests without starting to ache. I like to think of myself as a problem-solver and someone who can conquer whatever life throws at me, and I hate that even a routine “hey, is Project X done yet?” email sends me running for my Theracane. I’m definitely too sensitive about a lot of the stuff coming my way lately, and I really need to find a way to let it go and just relax.

From a purely physical perspective, I’m going to focus on reducing muscle tension in my upper back – which today’s physical therapist told me was ridiculously tight and in need of a lot of work. This helpful article suggests hot showers, massages, stretching/yoga, and over-the-counter painkillers – all of which I’ve already been using. Grr. I’m taking a round of steroids right now that are supposed to be anti-inflammatory, and adding muscle relaxants at night, but I feel like it’s probably pretty telling that even the prescription muscle relaxants don’t seem to leave my upper back any better. Again, I’m amazed at how stress can just wreak complete havoc on my body, to the point where normal remedies don’t work!

One thing that may help: after getting the go-ahead from my physical therapist, I’m thrilled to be cleared for basically any exercise that feels comfortable and doesn’t cause pain (except heavy weight, low rep weight lifting – which is usually my preference but I can totally switch out). Studies have shown that exercise is excellent in both preventing and relieving muscle tension, and I know for me, it’s also a huge stress-reliever. As I wrote on Saturday, endorphins – yay! I’ve really missed my routine morning workouts, and since I usually go to group classes, those also have a huge social component for me – which helps even more. While sleep may have been what my body needed, spending literally half my week in drug-induced dreamland didn’t give me time for anything other than work – and that isn’t exactly a stress-free zone!  I’m crossing my fingers that my return to a solid exercise routine will provide an outlet to help reduce a lot of my stress.

Since a recent NY Times article indicated that diaries helped patients with PTSD recover, I’m going to try to keep a bit of this personal medical story in each post I write – and I hope you don’t mind the melodramatics. Obviously I’m not suffering from PTSD, but I’m hopeful that like the patients in the article, I’ll soon be able to look back and say “this is how far she’s come”? Maybe. And speaking of blogging, while I’m not done with my July productivity challenge yet (big post coming on Wednesday about how exactly I structure my to do list and how much I’ve improved my GSD strategies so far this month), I have already decided on my August challenge: a month of yoga. And perhaps some meditation? Miss Theodora is pushing for that one (as I noted in my Link Love yesterday), but I’m still not 100% convinced. Jillian Michaels yoga-with-chaturanga-pushups for the win! (Any other meditation-haters out there?)

But for now, I’m tucking into bed with my muscle relaxers and a book. A good novel can take my mind off anything!


8 thoughts on “Reducing Stress: Doctor’s Orders”

  1. Sorry to hear that it’s a slow recovery process. Sure hope that physical therapy helps, along with all of the other avenues you are trying. One quick thing to try is when you feel the stress coming and the shoulders raising, focus not just on relaxing, but on actually pinching your shoulder blades together and down. Focus especially on the down. Sometimes it helps to be able to focus on an action (shoulder blades together and down) instead of just focusing on relaxing. Good luck on relieving stress!

    1. That’s really helpful, and I really appreciate it! I’m looking forward to getting the book you recommended when I get home on Friday.

  2. Hey friend…you know that phrase “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?” Maybe think about that re:yoga/meditation 😉

  3. Meditation makes me antsy, though I have found I enjoy hot yoga. I am sweating so damn much that I can’t really focus on anything but my own “practice”, as it is.

    Related, have you ever tried Zumba? I resisted for a long time because I am not much of a dancer and it seemed kind of hokey to me, but it is actually really fun. High intensity without being terribly high impact.

    1. I loveeeeeeee Zumba, though haven’t done it in a while. Good point that I should try getting back to some dance classes… those always make me happy.

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