Living with Chronic Physical & Mental Stress is not ‘Normal’
Words: Dr Marcus Bernini, Osteopath
Photos: Matthew Henry
We are a complex machine of pulleys, levers, fluid networks, and communication networks that require maintenance to remain at their optimum. Through good maintenance and realignment we can improve blood flow and therefore, improved cell, nerve, and muscle function.
A balanced body won’t fire stress chemicals to the excess. A released body ultimately means a released mind. We know the body can deal with a lot of manifested stress, but it does give us signals to preserve our health. Pain has a function: it is the body’s way of signaling something is wrong. If a red light flashes in your car, you fix the problem so it doesn’t flash anymore. You know the longer you wait, the bigger the problem will likely become. Why do we not have same the level of attention and respect for our own bodies? Alleviating the body-mind stress cycle requires a combination of self-care, daily habit changes, and extra help with an expert if needed to get you past the toughest pains.
If we are functioning optimally, we do not 'feel' anything negative within our body. When we feel tight, stiff, or like parts aren’t moving as well as they should, these are all sure signs your body is under a form of stress, be that by a mental or physical trigger.
The eyes, skin, hair and nails require efficient blood flow and all are good indicators for ill-health and/or stress: dull or equally inflamed skin (eczemas, acne flares), thinning hair or increased hair loss, red eyes and dark circles, very soft or brittle nails can all be manifestations of prolonged stress in the body.
Hunched or rounded shoulders are not just the symptom of the gym bunny who bicep curls and bench presses to excessive limits: our computer work sees us sitting for 8+ hours without moving, usually in an inadequate chair at incorrect desk height. Technology and social media addictions have us perpetually bent over our phones at every spare moment while navigating hallways, escalators and road crossings (‘death by selfie’ anyone?).
This causes imbalance. The shoulder joint, which should sit centrally in its socket, gets pulled forward, limiting mobility. Other muscles around the neck and shoulders start compensating, doing more work than they should, leading to fatigue and tension. What’s more, the head (which weighs on average of 7 kilograms) is no longer balanced above the shoulders but instead juts forward, causing excessive strain on the neck muscles as they try to anchor the weight. It’s no wonder the neck becomes compressed and muscles and nerves irritated. We are sloths compared to our ancestors. Modern society has led us to develop detrimental postural and movement habits that contribute to many pain points and that, sadly, most of us accept as being “normal”.
Apart from the obvious neck and shoulder pain, this can also bring headaches: the blood supply to and from the head is via the neck, so tension can disrupt that supply and allow toxic build up. This can also result in sinus induced headaches, where the sinuses are unable to flush efficiently and become congested. Leveraging the head by poor posture can cause nerves in the neck to become impinged by stiff muscles and locked joints. There is one particular nerve at the top of the neck that travels up in to your skull: when irritated it can cause pain around and behind the eye.