Workers in the United States are apparently some of the most stressed workers in the world. Renowned research company, Gallup, recently published their State Of The Global Workplace report, capturing how people feel about their lives and about their work over the past year.
With the world still feeling the after effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is no wonder that most people reported feeling rather stressed about things. Workers in the US and Canada ranked the highest for daily stress levels out of all of the groups that Gallup surveyed. 57% of US and Canadian workers reported feeling stressed on a daily basis vs the rest of the world where only 43% of workers felt stressed every day.
Stress Rate Trends
With continued shortages of consumer goods, supply chain troubles, rising inflation, weak stock markets, and businesses struggling to hire and retain employees, it doesn’t really come as a surprise that people are feeling more stressed than ever. Gallup’s chief workplace scientist, Jim Harter, notes that rates of daily stress, worry, sadness, and anger have been trending upwards for US workers since 2009.
How Does Stress Affect Back Pain?
During times of intense stress, it is not unusual to feel more aches and pains in our bodies, especially if you are one of the nearly 65 million American adults who suffers from low back pain. When our bodies are experiencing a lot of stress we often see an increase in inflammation, which can trigger chronic pain, often leading to back and neck pain.
The stress response that our bodies experience during difficult times leads to an increase in the production of a hormone called cortisol. You might know cortisol as the “fight or flight” hormone. Cortisol works with our bodies to control fear, mood, and motivation. It tells us when we should be afraid and when we should run. We have spoken about the effects of cortisol in many of our blogs because it plays such a huge role in how we experience stress in our bodies and the many ways that it translates into different health issues.
Effects Of Too Much Cortisol On Your Health
Research has shown that when our bodies are generating very high levels of cortisol for an extended period of time (like when we are chronically stressed) it can have serious consequences for our adrenal system. Chronic cortisol production can cause some of the following health issues:
Increased blood sugar levels
Suppressed Immune System (can cause allergies)
Heart disease (can increase your risk of stroke or a heart attack)
Adrenal Fatigue (a collection of nonspecific symptoms, such as body aches, fatigue, nervousness, sleep disturbances and digestive problems)
Chronic Inflammation (can lead to low back pain)
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue:
Chronic and unresolved inflammation and pain in the joints
Unspecified digestive issues
Trouble falling asleep or waking up
Sugar and salt cravings
Unexplained weight loss
Chronic Inflammation And Low Back Pain
When we are experiencing prolonged periods of stress, our back muscles can become tense and inflamed. Not only can this cause your muscles to feel a heightened sensitivity to pain, but tense muscles can also lead to injuries. When you are feeling stressed it is important to note your symptoms and take certain self-care steps to help try and prevent injury and reduce the pain.
Ways To Manage Stress And Help Manage Low Back Pain
When it comes to managing chronic stress there are several things that we can do on a daily basis to help manage our feelings. The American Psychological Association has several evidence-based measures that they recommend to help people manage their stress levels. Some of these include:
1. Media breaks
When we are constantly bombarded with angry social media posts or tormenting twitter feeds, it can be hard not to feel stressed. It is quite okay to take a break from your social media feed completely, or maybe just “snooze” some of your more controversial friends for a while.
Taking a break from the news can also be helpful. The constant exposure to disturbing images and dramatic “breaking news” clips can leave us in a heightened sense of distress and anxiety. As one social media post said recently, “I thought I would take a break from the news and watch something less disturbing. I just started a great new show about serial killers.”
Obviously this is a little humor, but instead of watching the news all day, perhaps it is time to catch up on some of your favorite comedies. Better yet, perhaps reading a good book or spending time outdoors might make you feel even better. If you want to stay up to date on current events, try just reading through the headlines once a day. Despite Wolf Blitzer’s insistence on constant "breaking news", things don’t change that much throughout the day and you probably won’t miss out on too much.
Practice Self Care
Taking short walks throughout the day, calling a friend or loved one, watching your favorite feel-good show or movie, or reading an enthralling book can make a tremendous difference to your mood. Find ways that you can practice self-care throughout the day. It doesn’t have to take a long time, just 15 to 30 minutes here and there can have a positive effect.
2. Connect With Friends And Family
When we are stressed sometimes our first instinct is to want to lie in bed and withdraw from the world. We want to lose ourselves in a Netflix binge and not speak to anyone. Staying connected with friends and family is extremely important when we are going through troubling times. Sometimes they will know just what to say to pick us up, and feeling that sense of connection to another human being is medicine for the soul. Connecting with others also helps to build our emotional resilience and we are able to be there to support each other through hard times.
3. Practice The Rule Of Three Good Things
We love this one! The APA recommends that at the end of each day, you should reflect on 3 good things that have happened to you, big or small. Focusing on these positive things can help build your emotional resiliency and helps to decrease stress, anxiety, and depression. Some people talk about doing “gratitude practice” which is similar. Going round the dinner table at night (or at breakfast) and saying something you are thankful for is a great way to help you remember the positive things that are still happening around you.
4. Keep Perspective
The 3 Good Things and gratitude practice are tools that we can use to ultimately reframe our thinking and help reduce the negative feelings that may have come up during the day. When we dwell on our negative thoughts it can be easy to spiral into a depression, which can then lead to increased pain (see our article on How To Break The Chronic Pain Cycle). Keeping things in perspective and focusing on some of the positive things that we experience can help prevent us from entering into the chronic pain cycle.
5. Stay Active
Exercise produces feel good chemicals in our bodies, known as endorphins. These endorphins are our bodies way of helping us to feel happier and more positive about life. Simple exercises like yoga, tai chi, pilates, walking, swimming, and stretching, can all help keep your muscles supple and flexible, and they can also help activate those awesome endorphins.
Modern day life seems to bring a series of constant challenges with it, and that can definitely cause us to feel as if there is never an end to what stress is coming next. We can’t control what happens to us or what is going on in the world, but we can take some steps to help manage our responses to these things.
Practicing these simple techniques can help reduce your lower back pain, improve your sense of well-being and help to prevent future low back injuries or flare ups. We hope you found this information helpful!