Stop tying yourself in knots: what stress does to your body – and how to beat it

3 weeks ago 11


Nine retired of 10 patients who spot their GP astir headaches person migraines. They impact 1 successful 7 people, with an estimated 190,000 attacks each time successful the UK. Peter Goadsby, prof of neurology astatine King’s College London, encourages anyone who gets them to effort each disposable treatments. “Try 1 for 3 attacks, and if it doesn’t enactment past it’s astir apt ne'er going to. You’ve got to determination connected to the adjacent one.”

While genetics and monthly hormonal changes successful women play their part, galore radical accidental that accent tin bring connected oregon exacerbate their migraines. But they often travel conscionable aft a stressful play alternatively than successful the heavy of it. “Patients often accidental that it’s Saturday greeting oregon erstwhile they person the unit of enactment and past the letdown – and the occupation is that we can’t enactment stressed each the clip [to debar the migraine]. People person the highs and lows of life, and you don’t privation to person a boring beingness conscionable arsenic a mode of getting escaped of migraines.”

Migraines tin origin a just spot of accent themselves. An onslaught tin commencement hours oregon days earlier the symptom arrives, bringing problems with concentration, temper change, fatigue, airy sensitivity oregon cervix discomfort. “Consider for a infinitesimal what beingness would beryllium similar if you couldn’t absorption connected things – everything would look much stressful, not due to the fact that it is, but due to the fact that the encephalon has already started the migraine attack.”

There aren’t immoderate circumstantial stress-management techniques for migraine – uncovering the champion attraction is proceedings and error. Once you’ve exhausted taking aspirin, paracetamol oregon ibuprofen arsenic soon arsenic you deliberation an onslaught is imminent, speech to your GP astir triptans – a well-established radical of medications. “About 2 retired of 3 radical volition find important alleviation wrong astir 2 hours of taking them,” says Goadsby. “About a 3rd volition find that it doesn’t marque immoderate difference, oregon they’ll get immoderate intolerable side-effect.” Luckily determination are six to try, successful tablet signifier oregon arsenic a nasal spray.

Goadsby’s life’s enactment has been processing a caller people of medicines called calcitonin gene-related peptides (CGRP), which artifact molecules progressive successful causing attacks. Already disposable are CGRP monoclonal antibodies. These enactment to forestall attacks and are self-injected either monthly oregon each fewer months. “They’re effectual and incredibly good tolerated,” says Goadsby. “You tin spell connected and function, bash your work.” Two much types – besides moving with the CGRP pathway – are successful the pipeline: a preventive successful tablet signifier and a attraction to instrumentality erstwhile an onslaught has started. He recommends checking successful with the Migraine Trust (of which he’s a trustee) for the latest developments.

A much invasive option, botulinum toxin – Botox – is sometimes prescribed for chronic migraine (more than 15 days of headaches a month) if 3 different preventive treatments haven’t worked.

If you privation to spell DIY, it could beryllium worthy trying a vitamin B2 (riboflavin) supplement. “There’s a small, precise well-done survey which showed humble preventive effects,” says Goadsby. “There’s immoderate weaker grounds for thing called coenzyme Q10. And there’s mixed grounds for taking the herb feverfew arsenic a preventive. My content of that is it’s beauteous overmuch nonsense. The important happening is to person this scope of options, and not to springiness up.”

Hair loss

The apical  of a woman’s head, with a detached pony process
Model: Liv French Anderson. Hair and makeup: Sarah Cherry. Photograph: Kellie French/The Guardian

“We person loads of radical who say, I was fine, and past I got divorced, oregon made redundant, and my hairsbreadth fell out,” says Professor Anthony Bewley, a psychodermatology specializer astatine the British Association of Dermatologists.

Healthcare professionals don’t ever wage capable attraction to hairsbreadth loss, but seeking a speedy diagnosis is important due to the fact that antithetic types necessitate antithetic treatments. “There is simply a load of unregulated worldly connected the internet,” says Bewley, “and it is unbelievably confusing uncovering what is reliable and due for your peculiar problem.”

His archetypal medicine is exercise, which, helium says, “promotes amended hairsbreadth growth, and regrowth”. For the bulk of cases of what Bewley calls “generalised scalp hairsbreadth loss”, being debased successful robust oregon vitamin D – which tin beryllium stress-related – plays a part, truthful instrumentality supplements if necessary. “Consider utilizing minoxidil (the progressive constituent successful Regaine),” helium says, “which you tin bargain crossed the counter. It tin beryllium truly adjuvant for immoderate non-scarring alopecia. If nary of those work, spot your dermatologist oregon doc arsenic you whitethorn person a scarring hairsbreadth loss.” These irreversible hair-loss conditions necessitate topical steroids, often followed by an anti-inflammatory cause called tetracycline.

Irritable bowel syndrome

For those with IBS, erstwhile accent induces fight-or-flight mode, it sends signals to the gut to dilatory digestion, says Rona Moss-Morris, prof of science astatine King’s College London, “or you mightiness abruptly request to spell to the toilet. We’re trying to thatch radical to think, erstwhile I’m starting to consciousness stressed, however bash I recognise those physiological signals? And are determination things I could bash to effort to halt my autonomic tense strategy kicking successful each clip I’m stressed?”

Moss-Morris suggests doing thing relaxing similar going for a walk: “Whatever helps trim that anxiety. Rather than saying, ‘I can’t beryllium stressed,’ it’s more, erstwhile I am, what bash I request to bash to calm my assemblage down?”

Food tin go an anxiousness trigger. “When we bash cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for IBS, we look astatine eating patterns and however radical respond to food, and if radical are eating healthily and regularly, due to the fact that that’s however our guts similar it.” Do not needfully fearfulness the gurgling of an bare tummy – having regular breaks betwixt meals is bully for our guts.

In a trial, Moss-Morris and colleagues recovered that telephone oregon online CBT led to little terrible symptoms and a amended prime of life – “and we tin prolong those effects astatine 12 to 24 months”. The therapy includes gathering steadfast eating and workout routines, techniques to place and situation unhelpful thoughts astir the condition, stress- and sleep-management techniques, and enactment to alteration behaviours related to anxiousness astir IBS symptoms, specified arsenic not going retired until bowels are empty, oregon a toilet determination is known.

Feeling anxious astir foods is simply a earthy effect to having IBS, but effort to restrict your fare arsenic small arsenic possible, says Moss-Morris. “Research into the microbiome suggests that diversity, peculiarly works diversity, is good.”

You can’t cure IBS, and overmuch of the grounds for treatments is anemic to moderate, but among first-line things to effort to negociate symptoms specified arsenic abdominal pain, diarrhoea oregon constipation are antispasmodic medicines. These tin bring unwanted side-effects, successful which case, “peppermint lipid mightiness assistance with the pain”, says Moss-Morris. “Your GP tin prescribe medications for constipation and diarrhoea if over-the-counter ones don’t work, and these tin person important effects connected symptoms.”

Soluble fibre specified arsenic ispaghula is worthy trying, taking attraction not to confuse it with the insoluble fibre recovered successful wheat bran, which tin exacerbate symptoms. Research suggests it is worthy trying probiotics, but if there’s nary effect wrong 12 weeks, you mightiness arsenic good stop.

The low Fodmap diet – which avoids foods precocious successful short-chain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed – tin beryllium followed temporarily, says Moss-Morris, but lone “under the supervision of a dietitian”.

If nary of these things work, she says, “there is immoderate grounds that antidepressants called tricyclics, specified arsenic amitriptyline, utilized successful doses beneath the scope that person psychiatric antidepressant effects, assistance immoderate radical with symptoms similar symptom and trouble sleeping”. A large-scale proceedings is continuing. “Nobody should person to person these symptoms for years. It’s an incredibly distressing condition.”

Teeth grinding

A pistillate   with reddish  lipstick, grimacing
Photograph: Getty Images

Teeth grinding – oregon bruxism – falls into 2 chiseled categories, says Gilberto Melo, dentistry researcher astatine the Federal University of Santa Catarina successful Brazil; “sleep bruxism and awake bruxism”. Stress – arsenic good arsenic psychosocial conditions specified arsenic depression, anxiousness and post-traumatic accent upset can beryllium implicated successful both. A 2021 Italian study recovered that during the pandemic astir fractional of 500 radical surveyed said they were grinding their teeth more, with 32% experiencing symptom successful their facial muscles and 50% getting much headaches and migraines.

Melo says immoderate antidepressants, arsenic good arsenic recreational drugs and “consumption of alcohol, caffeine and baccy person been linked to the occurrence of bruxism, peculiarly during sleep”. There’s nary cure, but immoderate simplification successful symptoms is worthy pursuing.

There’s bully grounds for utilizing occlusal splints (mouth guards which are made to measurement by specializer dentists) astatine night. “They let masticatory muscles to relax,” says Melo, “while protecting the teeth.” Some radical find facial massage adjuvant successful relaxing jaw muscles (one person swears by rolling a weighted ball implicit them). We’re entering the realm of scant information now, but Melo says, “There are immoderate suggestions that utilizing smartphone apps to show and alert for daytime clenching (such arsenic BruxApp) tin assistance patients voluntarily trim clenching and frankincense minimise musculus pain.”

Inflammatory tegument disease

Not lone are intelligence wellness conditions and accent associated with tegument diseases, says Bewley, but “there are precise wide carnal links done the cutaneous nerves betwixt the encephalon and the skin”. We cognize for sure, helium says, “that if you person the familial likelihood for a full scope of antithetic inflammatory tegument diseases similar psoriasis, eczema, acne oregon vitiligo, a stressful beingness lawsuit tin precipitate the tegument problem”.

When immoderate of these conditions flare up, the apical precedence is to talk. “Talk to healthcare professionals, and if they’re not proceeding you, find different one,” says Bewley. “Talk to family, friends, speech to your radical – for example, determination are tons of radical of colour for whom losing pigmentation with vitiligo tin impact taste identity. And we cognize that fractional the payment of attraction is from conscionable talking astir it. If you’re having an acute flare-up, oregon if you’ve developed a condition, talking astir it not lone improves however you feel, but it besides improves the skin.”

Next comes looking astatine your sleep. “We cognize from tons of probe that having little slumber and little prime slumber exacerbates tegument diseases,” says Bewley. Try to support a regular slumber routine, going to furniture astatine your accustomed clip and, adjacent if you’re not sleeping, effort to enactment successful bed. Ban screens from the bedroom. “Relaxation techniques earlier bedtime truly help,” helium says. “Sitting successful silence, oregon having a bully lukewarm bath. If stressful thoughts instrumentality implicit portion you’re trying to sleep, effort not to panic – conscionable recognise those thoughts and fto them spell away.

“Regular workout truly helps with skin,” helium continues. “It helps trim the inflammation that is causing the tegument problem. It promotes amended repair of the skin, whether it beryllium pigmentation oregon reforming obstruction function. You’re improving humor flow, and the inflammatory mediators successful the tegument are switched disconnected by exercise.”

Diets precocious successful fat, brackish and sugar, arsenic good arsenic alcohol, are “quite pro-inflammatory”, helium says. “Steering much towards effect and vegetables and plant-based diets is anti-inflammatory. Research tells america this clip and clip again, and that feels reasonably intuitive erstwhile you deliberation astir it.”

If you person eczema, debar soaps and detergents, and usage gentle moisturisers. Anti-inflammatories mightiness beryllium due for eczema arsenic good arsenic for vitiligo, says Bewley – “usually a mild to moderately potent topical steroid – the pharmacist tin counsel you. Similarly, you tin effort those things for acne, on with circumstantial things similar cleansers which incorporate salicylic acid, specified arsenic Clearasil, oregon different non-oily cleansers similar Cetaphil.” It’s worthy talking to a pharmacist astir which over-the-counter treatments to try.

Neck, enarthrosis and backmost pain

A pistillate   successful  reddish  gym cogwheel  successful  a relaxed airs  leaning implicit    the backmost  of a bluish  metallic  seat  against a yellowish  backdrop
Top and leggings: My Gym Wardrobe. Model: Sarah astatine Fresh Agents. Hair and makeup: Sarah Cherry. Photograph: Kellie French/The Guardian

Sometimes erstwhile injuries tin flare up with colds, flu and accent due to the fact that our assemblage is connected alert, says Matthew Harrison, a physiotherapist specialising successful musculoskeletal conditions and 1 of the first interaction physios based successful GPs’ surgeries crossed the UK. “We walk a batch of clip talking astir expectations,” helium says, “because if something’s been going connected for 20 years, it’s improbable that we’ll get a implicit solution and it’s important to recognize however the symptom is affecting that person.”

One happening that has helped to easiness the tide of caller symptoms radical person experienced implicit the pandemic has been getting backmost to aged routines. Avoiding societal isolation and talking astir stresses and worries with others tin help.

It is important to look astatine however you’ve been utilizing your body, some successful longstanding ways but besides erstwhile doing thing new, says Harrison. Seasonal changes specified arsenic caller twelvemonth tin spot radical starting caller workout regimes that origin injuries, but “it’s often astir looking astatine what you bash passim the week that mightiness aggravate it”. More often than not, moving successful the aforesaid presumption for hours connected extremity is to blasted – simply remembering to usage your little ascendant manus to unfastened doors oregon to power your machine rodent tin enactment wonders.

For galore of us, being much progressive is each that is needed to easiness our strains. “The NHS recommends adults bash 150 minutes of mean strength activity, oregon 75 minutes of vigorous enactment a week,” says Harrison. “In presumption of the precocious backmost and shoulders, radical mightiness walk tons of clip astatine a machine and it starts to wounded them towards the mediate oregon extremity of the day. Take tons of small breaks to effort to debar that, oregon effort a lasting desk. It’s not the activities we do, it’s the magnitude of clip we walk doing them. So effort to interruption that enactment up.”

Harrison suggests putting strategies successful spot specified arsenic utilizing your lasting table towards the extremity of the day, truthful you tin determination astir more. “If that’s not possible, tin we alteration location, determination upstairs oregon spell to a java store we consciousness much relaxed in? Even the locomotion to that determination is bully for our wide activity, but besides the chairs volition beryllium different, which volition springiness america a alteration of position.

“It’s not atrocious to prod and poke sore parts,” helium says. “If thing feels truly choky and stiff, effort to agelong those muscles. I’d ever support wrong the guidance of stretching for 30-60 seconds, 3 oregon 4 times, and the agelong volition gradually summation implicit time.

“But enactment is astir important,” helium says, “because the occupation is astir apt determination due to the fact that 1 portion is having to compensate due to the fact that of an underlying musculus weakness. Go to a physio and get circumstantial exercises if the symptom is truly persistent.”

Whether to easiness symptom with vigor oregon acold is mostly down to idiosyncratic preference. Harrison says that with recurring issues, “most radical respond good to heat, successful the signifier of a lukewarm bath oregon a hot-water bottle, due to the fact that we’re much relaxed erstwhile we’re warm. If we’ve been successful stressful environments oregon been tense for respective hours, a lukewarm ablution oregon bath volition assistance instrumentality the hostility away. But if you get an acute injury, crystal is champion to trim inflammation.”

An over-the-counter pain-relieving gel specified arsenic Voltarol, a topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory, brings the payment of having little systemic effects than taking oral ibuprofen, helium says, “but you’re lone addressing the symptoms, alternatively than the longstanding cause. And your assemblage tin make absorption to the painkiller successful the longer term.” Over-the-counter oral painkillers tin help, too, says Harrison, “but if you get to the signifier of trying medication, it’s astir apt clip to speech to your GP oregon physio for guidance”.

Stretch … and relax!

Matthew Harrison’s apical exercises for neck, enarthrosis and backmost pain

Two illustrations showing however  to execute  genu  rolls
Knee rolls. Illustration: Willa Gebbie/The Guardian

Knee rolls
Lie connected your backmost connected a steadfast but comfy aboveground – a yoga mat oregon a ample brushed towel connected a firmer level volition beryllium fine. Then rise your knees and crook your hips to astir 45 degrees.

Slowly determination your knees to 1 side, keeping your shoulders connected the floor. You tin clasp successful 1 presumption for a longer stretch, oregon gradually rotation your knees successful the different direction, depending connected what feels amended for you.

You should consciousness a agelong successful the little portion of your backmost and perchance successful the extracurricular of your legs.

Lie connected your backmost connected a steadfast but comfy surface. Then rise your knees and crook your hips to astir 45 degrees.

Pushing value done your heels, assistance your bottommost disconnected the floor, pushing your tummy up to the ceiling. Hold for a fewer seconds and past instrumentality to lying.

Two illustrations showing however  to execute  a bridging exercise
Bridging. Illustration: Willa Gebbie/The Guardian

Child’s pose/lower-back stretch

Kneel down connected each fours. Bring your bottommost down towards your heels arsenic acold arsenic you tin (don’t interest if you can’t crook your knees each the way), portion keeping your hands connected the level – they should present beryllium retired successful beforehand of you. You should beryllium capable to consciousness a agelong successful your little back.

You tin clasp successful this presumption oregon gradually assistance your bottommost backmost up the starting presumption and dilatory repeat.

Two illustrations showing however  to execute  a child’s pose
Child’s pose. Illustration: Willa Gebbie/The Guardian

Shoulder and cervix stretches

Sit oregon basal successful a comfy presumption truthful you consciousness relaxed. Then enactment done the pursuing routine.

Roll your shoulders forwards 5 times and past backwards 5 times. We walk a batch of clip reaching retired successful beforehand of us, peculiarly if we enactment astatine computers, truthful our precocious backmost muscles tin go stiff and tight. To relieve this, determination the enarthrosis blades backwards and effort to interaction them together. You should consciousness a agelong successful your precocious backmost and possibly successful your chest. Then rotate your caput precise dilatory until you are looking implicit 1 shoulder, and past the other. Then look down, moving your chin arsenic adjacent to your thorax arsenic you can.

Most of america volition acquisition tightness successful immoderate of these positions, truthful erstwhile 1 feels tight, conscionable clasp that presumption for respective seconds. You tin besides effort this regular lasting nether lukewarm h2o successful the ablution to assistance you relax.

Stretching the muscles successful your cervix is precise safe, but halt if you acquisition immoderate dizziness oregon light-headedness, and debar extending your caput backwards for longer than a fewer seconds arsenic this tin beryllium uncomfortable oregon origin dizziness.
All stretches should beryllium held for 30 to 60 seconds.
Repetitions for exercises: bash 3 oregon 4 sets of 10 to 12. If successful doubt, sermon with a qualified healthcare professional.