Have you ever felt pain and not really understood what’s causing it? Well, it could very well be caused by stressors in your workday.
We spoke with our resident wellness expert, Rachel Brumberger from Launch Workplaces Bethesda, about the most common work-related stressors that are probably causing you physical and mental discomfort–and four simple things you can do to stop it.
First, you need to understand how and why they affect you.
There Are Unlikely Suspects Causing You Physical and Emotional Discomfort
Here’s an uncomfortable reality: when you’re feeling emotionally beat up–whether it’s stress, frustration, anger, or any other number of feelings–there’s a strong likelihood that you’re feeling physically run-down as a result.
This is the basis for a lot of the work Rachel does. Having serendipitously merged her desire to manage her own health breakdowns with the urge to change her career trajectory, she’s spent the last 10 years helping people to feel comfortable in their own body, mind, and spirit.
“When somebody is having emotional anguish, they’re usually having physical anguish to accompany it and vice versa,” Rachel explains. “And that’s when it’s time to do some detective work to unravel what’s wrong.”
She continues, “It could be any number of things. For example, certain industries have seasons of higher stress, and that stress can translate into physical pain. It can also be related to water intake, diet, sleep, or even being unsure what they want to do in their work life. It might be that they read a lot of news and it’s stressing them out and they don’t even realize that it’s impacting them. I’ve even encountered situations where people are taking Tums all the time for heartburn thinking it’s related to what they’ve been eating when really it’s caused by a certain person at work speaking to them a certain way.”
3 Work-Related Factors That Are Probably Causing You Pain
Your workday is chalk full of things that could be causing you pain and discomfort. And most of them are more common than you’d think.
Active vs. Sedentary Work
Many people work in scenarios where they’re sitting down at computers a lot. This is well known to cause physical pain.
Rachel explains, “When you’re sedentary and sitting down all day, you’re going to bump into trouble with your hips and your pelvic basin. You can expect soreness in your lower back, your neck, and knees caused by muscle tension. And you can also expect to get headaches.”
But it’s not just people who are sedentary in their work that experience physical discomfort. Those who are more active in their jobs encounter similar problems.
“People whose primary work is on their feet often also experience discomfort,” Rachel says. “It’s common that you’ll get neck, back, and shoulder pain if you work on your feet just the same way that people who sit all day do.”
She continues, “Because of the way we often use our bodies while working, our bodies will struggle to keep their physical integrity which can lead to significant discomfort.”
In addition to the physical discomfort your work can cause you, there are other bodily stressors that can cause you both physical and emotional discomfort–and you may not even know they’re connected.
“A lot of the time, people feel pain and associate it with a physical ailment,” Rachel elaborates. “The reality is that factors like digestive health, diaphragm tension, and respiratory ailments all factor into both our physical and mental wellbeing.
Unchecked emotional stressors, like work-related stress, are well-known to have implications on your physical health, even being linked to things like high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
It can also cause muscle tension and soreness which you might not immediately associate with the fact that you’re stressed out.
“We each have an idea of what stress means in our body,” Rachel says. “But if you were to figure out where that stress is coming from, you might learn something really interesting.”
Self-Managing Stressors Can Be the Key to Alleviating Pain
According to Rachel, the key to alleviating pain is to get in tune with your body and be able to draw a connection between the unlikely suspects that are actually causing you discomfort.
The challenge is that “stress” is a bucket word for a massive amount of emotions, depending on the person. So, in order to reduce the physical and mental impacts caused by stress, you need to identify what those emotions are in yourself.
“The first thing you need to do is see if you can identify stressors in real time,” Rachel explains. “For example, be mindful about how you feel when the phone rings or how you feel when you’re in a meeting and somebody says something that rubs you the wrong way. Pay attention to if it causes you discomfort and do your best to identify where you feel it.”
She continues, “For me, the first thing I do is consider where I feel stress in my body and then consider how I can respond to it instead of reacting to it.”
But it’s also important to take proactive measures to equip yourself to deal with the stressors you encounter every day.
“Mindfulness is one part of the equation,” Rachel says. “There’s also the aspect of considering how you can take care of your body sufficiently so that you’re able to tolerate the stress in a way that doesn’t have you overreacting to things and, in turn, reduces the fallout from it.”
She adds, “We need to consider our emotional reality and its connection with our physical and mental wellbeing.”
4 Easy Ways to Reduce Stress-Induced Pain
With so many stressors that can impact your physical and mental wellbeing, Rachel shares four easy things you can do every day to counteract those stressors and keep yourself feeling great.
1. Find Some Rest
While making sure you get a full eight hours of sleep is critical to your physical and emotional wellbeing, the idea of finding rest each day doesn’t necessarily pertain only to sleep.
“For some people, resting means finding an excuse to meditate,” Rachel says. “And for others, maybe that’s not their thing. Rest can be whatever you make it. It can be resting at a red light, simply taking that moment to just be quiet or look at the trees, listen to some music, do some respiratory exercises. It can also be just enjoying a quiet lunch outside rather than in the lunchroom every now and then. Or you can even just take a pause at your desk to get in tune with your body.”
She continues, “Whatever it is, just try to find rest in the normal flow of activities. Simply take a break to be present for a moment. Those pauses are rest. And eliminate distractions while you rest. A lot of us forget to pause or rest without stimulation like checking social media or watching the news.”
2. Find Time to Move
To alleviate physical pain or discomfort, Rachel emphasizes the importance of moving your body throughout the workday. While getting up for a quick walk is great, there’s more that can be done.
“It’s vital to go a little bit above and beyond what you’d typically consider workday movements,” Rachel says. “Rather than just going for a stroll, try to intentionally incorporate movement into your day. For example, if you get up to use the restroom, take a minute when you get back to do a few quick stretches before you sit down.”
She adds, “It’s important to move your energy or you’ll start to get stagnant and that can make you stressed out.”
3. Eat Real Food and Drink Clear Water
While there’s nothing wrong with coffee, electrolyte drinks, juices, and energy drinks in small amounts, Rachel cautions that too much can seriously toll your physical and mental comfort levels.
“One big thing is that it’s wise to watch your stimulant intake during the day,” she says. “It can be easy to grab for a coffee to keep you going but caffeine and sugar will eventually lead to a crash. Do your best to keep your water intake consistent because this will ultimately make you feel the best.”
Food is also a critical factor in keeping your physical and mental wellbeing in check.
“Do your best to eat whole foods,” Rachel advises. “All whole foods are going to make you feel better. It’s easy to buy a protein bar or a granola bar but if you can keep an apple and a bag of nuts around instead, there’s a lot more your body can do with that.
She continues, “Keep things at your desk for when you need an emergency snack–things like carrot sticks, celery sticks, apples, pears, and oranges. Even V8 drinks are a great bet. If you can have five or more servings per day of fruits and vegetables, your body and mind will thank you.”
4. Experience Joy Daily
The same way rest is often perceived as sleep, joy is often perceived as complete elation. But Rachel explains how that’s not necessarily the case.
“Joy is just the opposite of sadness,” she says. “It can take the form of almost anything that makes you happy. It could be a hobby, a book, a conversation with a friend, getting some exercise, walking the dog. Anything that helps counterbalance the stressors you experience each day. Joy can relieve feelings of being sad or uninspired. It can also help relieve the physical tension you’re feeling.”
She continues, “Ask yourself when the last time was that you had a really good laugh or a really good time. Sometimes people can’t answer that question and they’re in a world of physical pain. Then, they get a little bit of joy, and things start changing a lot.
Without joy, your mentality and stresses can get stuck, in turn causing tension and pain. With joy, we come back to ourselves. We can help the negative energy that’s stuck in us begin to move and we can start figuring out a way around things–like how you can talk to your boss or coworker about something, how you can ask for a raise, whatever it may be.”