Stress on the Job

Stress has been called the spice of life, the common cold of the psyche, and even a socially acceptable form of mental illness. No doubt, stress can be beneficial—for example, a deadline can help us focus and become more alert and efficient. Persistent or excessive stress, however, can undermine performance and make us vulnerable to health problems, from cancer and heart disease to substance abuse and obesity.

Stress is a physical and mental response to the difference between our expectations and our personal experience, real or imaginary. While reacting to stress, the body goes through alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. Released hormone epinephrine, or adrenaline, prepares the body for physical action (“fight or flight”) by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels. Then, the body releases glucocorticoid cortisol, or hydrocortisone, producing anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressing effects.

Consequences of Chronic Stress
Although occasional stress can be of benefit, too much stress is taxing on the body. Excessive levels of glucocorticoids can hinder growth, delay wound healing, and increase risk of infection. Chronic stressors—or their constant anticipation—can make us believe that we must always be on guard, leading to anxiety. Feelings of hopelessness or avoiding solving our problems can spark depression.

Past or present psychological distress can also lead to pain, particularly low-back pain, which often comes with leg pain, headaches, sleep problems, anxiety, and depression. Stress may even be a more powerful pain generator than strenuous physical activity or repetitive motion. Research shows, for example, that pain in adolescents is associated with depression and stress, but not with computer use or physical activity.

Stress is highly individual and depends on our circumstances. For example, we react to stress better if we can vent our frustrations, feel in control, hope that things will change for the better, and get social support.

Gender also determines how we handle stress. Women are easily stressed by household problems, conflicts with people, or illness in people they know. Men get more significantly affected by job loss, legal problems, and work-related issues. Men are also more likely to get depressed over divorce or separation and work problems. Depression in women, however, is more likely to spring from interpersonal conflicts or low social support, particularly from family.

Stress on the Job
The workplace has become a major stressor, contributing to the risk of hypertension and heart disease. Recent studies have shown, however, that what stresses us out is not so much the job demands, but our attitude toward them. For example, people who react with anger to their high job strain or who are worried about their chronic work overload have much higher morning corsisol levels. Lack of a sense of control over a job is also associated with higher blood pressure, especially in women and in people with higher socioeconomic status.

Stress Relief Is Important

No matter what stresses you out, consider taking active steps to change your attitude toward stress and to reduce stress in your life.

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11 Tips for Living With Chronic Pain

1. Learn deep breathing or meditation to help with chronic pain.

Deep breathing and meditation are techniques that help your body relax, which eases pain. Tension and tightness seep from muscles as they receive a quiet message to relax.

Although there are many to meditate, the soothing power of repetition is at the heart of some forms of meditation. Focusing on the breath, ignoring thoughts, and repeating a word or phrase — a mantra — causes the body to relax. While you can learn meditation on your own, it helps to take a class.

Deep breathing is also a relaxation technique. Find a quiet location, a comfortable body position, and block out distracting thoughts. Then, imagine a spot just below your navel. Breathe into that spot, filling your abdomen with air. Let the air fill you from the abdomen up, then let it out, like deflating a balloon.

2. Reduce stress in your life. Stress intensifies chronic pain.

Negative feelings like depression, anxiety, stress, and anger can increase the body’s sensitivity to pain. By learning to take control of stress, you may find some relief from chronic pain.

Several techniques can help reduce stress and promote relaxation. Listening to soothing, calming music can lift your mood — and make living with chronic pain more bearable. There are even specially designed relaxation tapes or CDs for this. Mental imagery relaxation (also called guided imagery) is a form of mental escape that can help you feel peaceful. It involves creating calming, peaceful images in your mind. Progressive muscle relaxation is another technique that promotes relaxation.

3. Boost chronic pain relief with the natural endorphins from exercise.

Endorphins are brain chemicals that help improve your mood while also blocking pain signals. Exercise has another pain-reducing effect — it strengthens muscles, helping prevent re-injury and further pain. Plus, exercise can help keep your weight down, reduce heart disease risk, and control blood sugar levels — especially important if you have diabetes. Ask your doctor for an exercise routine that is right for you. If you have certain health conditions, like diabetic neuropathy, you will need to be careful about the types of activities you engage in; your doctor can advise you on the best physical activities for you.

4. Cut back on alcohol, which can worsen sleep problems.

Pain makes sleep difficult, and alcohol can make sleep problems worse. If you’re living with chronic pain, drinking less or no alcohol can improve your quality of life.

5. Join a support group. Meet others living with chronic pain.

When you’re with people who have chronic pain and understand what you’re going through, you feel less alone. You also benefit from their wisdom in coping with the pain.
Also, consider meeting with a mental health professional. Anyone can develop depression if they’re living with chronic pain. Getting counseling can help you learn to cope better and help you avoid negative thoughts that make pain worse — so you have a healthier attitude. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

6. Don’t smoke. It can worsen chronic pain.

Smoking can worsen painful circulation problems and increase risk of heart disease and cancer.

7. Track your pain level and activities every day.

To effectively treat your pain, your doctor needs to know how you’ve been feeling between visits. Keeping a log or journal of your daily “pain score” will help you track your pain. At the end of each day, note your pain level on the 1 to 10 pain scale. Also, note what activities you did that day. Take this log book to every doctor visit — to give your doctor a good understanding of how you’re living with chronic pain and your physical functioning level.

8. Learn biofeedback to decrease pain severity.

Through biofeedback, it’s possible to consciously control various body functions. It may sound like science fiction, but there is good evidence that biofeedback works — and that it’s not hard to master.

Here’s how it works: You wear sensors that let you “hear” or “see” certain bodily functions like pulse, digestion, body temperature, and muscle tension. The squiggly lines and/or beeps on the attached monitors reflect what’s going on inside your body. Then you learn to control those squiggles and beeps. After a few sessions, your mind has trained your biological system to learn the skills.

9. Get a massage for chronic pain relief.

Massage can help reduce stress and relieve tension — and is being used by people living with all sorts of chronic pain, including back and neck pain.

10. Eat a healthy diet if you’re living with chronic pain.

A well-balanced diet is important in many ways — aiding your digestive process, reducing heart disease risk, keeping weight under control, and improving blood sugar levels. To eat a low-fat, low-sodium diet, choose from these: fresh fruits and vegetables; cooked dried beans and peas; whole-grain breads and cereals; low-fat cheese, milk, and yogurt; and lean meats.

11. Find ways to distract yourself from pain so you enjoy life more.

When you focus on pain, it makes it worse rather than better. Instead, find something you like doing — an activity that keeps you busy and thinking about things besides your pain. You might not be able to avoid pain, but you can take control of your life.

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Improve Your Brain’s Performance!

There are three proven ways to improve your brain’s performance according to Sharon Begley of Newsweek Magazine. One is exercise. Exercise is good for your heart, muscles, and bones, but probably the greatest benefit is to your brain. Exercise creates positve brain changes (neuroplasticity). If it was a drug, it would and should be prescribed to everyone. This is another reason why people should exercise every day.

The second way to improve brain function is through meditation. Meditation, or focused attention, allows us to develop self awareness. Self awareness is the most critical part of changing any behavior. Most people who are “stressed out” cannot meditate at first but, with practice, they are eventually able to. Meditation will also have a calming effect. If you meditate regularly, it will help turn off the stress chemicals in your brain so you can think more clearly.

The third way to improve your brain’s performance is complex video games. These games make you focus, use your short and long term memory, your visual skills and other executive brain functions. If you improve in these games, you have created positive brain changes which can apply to other aspects of your life.

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Headache is the most common complaint for a patient seeking medical advice. There are many causes of headaches, but the most common cause of severe headache is migraine. A common misunderstanding by patients is that all bad headaches are caused by tumors. Actually it is very rare for patients to have brain tumors, and all people with headaches do not need an MRI of their brain.The two most common types of headache are migraine and tension headache.

Migraine headache is often misdiagnosed as sinus disease, because people who experience migraine headache usually will have pain over the eyes. With a sinus condition, you will have either blockage or drainage of that sinus. People often are treated for chronic sinus infection for years, but they actually have a type of migraine.

Once migraine is diagnosed, there are effective medicines to treat migraine.Tension headache is characterized by a feeling of tightness of your scalp. You feel like you have a band wrapped around your head. Often the muscles in the back of your neck are very tight. These headaches are aggravated by stress.

In my opinion, this type of headache responds very well to chiropractic care. The chiropractor can release the tension in your neck muscles by gently manipulating and massaging your upper neck. Headache is a very common complaint in clinical practice. Make sure you have an accurate diagnosis, so you can receive the best treatment.

~Dr. Dave

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Chronic Pain : Is it all in your head?

A few weeks ago a patient came hobbling in with lower back pain. She was under emotional stress due to financial problems. She had physiotherapy treatment in my office and told me a funny story. She started laughing as she told the story. I asked her how her pain was, and she said it was gone! The physical treatment and the laughing had changed her emotional state. She literally was dancing out the door.

Pain is a brain experience and unique to you. Pain is defined as an emotional response to tissue damage. How much pain you feel has no relationship to the amount of tissue damage.

With chronic pain all tissue healing has occurred but you still feel pain. Why?

If you are under emotional or physical stress, it can amplify or “turn up” your pain. Your body releases stress chemicals that make you more sensitive to pain. If you focus on your pain it will be worse, and if you are distracted you will feel better.

The longer you have chronic pain the worse it usually gets. This is because of brain plasticity or rewiring. The more you keep firing the pain pathways the stronger the connections become. It becomes almost hardwired in your brain even though all the tissue has healed. When you have chronic pain, the pain becomes the focus of your life. That is horrible for your brain and body. It usually leads to anxiety and depression.

You can get better if you suffer from chronic pain, but you are going to have to do some things differently. There are natural methods as well as medications that can relieve your suffering. The first thing is to decide you want to get better!

~Dr. Dave

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