Stress Management Introduction

Stress: it’s a fact of life. In fact, we could not live without some stress. But too much stress, or the wrong kind of stress, significantly and negatively affects our health.

Injuries, sickness, and other traumas cause stress to our bodies, which can create a cycle of illness, depression, anxiety, and more. The following interviews shed some light on how stress affects us in many ways, and some things we can do to alleviate negative stress.

Question 1 (Laura): Dr. Rita, how can stress cause injuries?

I injured my hamstring because of stress and being hurried while trying a new exercise on my own that I probably should not have tried. In retrospect, I think I pushed myself too far — a lapse in judgment due to stress.

The fitness world is so competitive and I try to stay away from that. I do admit that it is a struggle for me, and perhaps other exercisers and fitness instructors, to resist the temptation to push ourselves too hard to be “good enough.” I know I sometimes “spaz out” when I think I’m going to be judged by others. We fear their judgment so we tend sometimes to over-do it to “prove” ourselves….to be “good enough.”  It’s a good thing God accepts us as we are so we don’t have to prove ourselves to Him.

Dr. Rita’s Answer:

As far as the hamstrings go….they’re certainly a muscle that does get tight in many patients who sit for long periods of time or in patients with back issues. I also see A LOT of stress-induced tension in the upper traps, levator scapulas, and rhomboids. But each patient is different, so I suppose wherever your weak spot is, that’s where your stress will manifest. Maybe in your case, it’s the hamstrings.

As for the remedy for these problems, I believe God’s truth and grace set  you free from other people’s judgment…and the physical consequences that result. As you have already done, quote Scripture (i.e. Truth) rather than listen to anyone who is critical, even your own thoughts. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Stress management through healthy exercise like WholyFit is a great way to keep in that place of rest. It helps you to receive his love in whatever state of imperfection you happen to be in, from beginner to advanced. You don’t have to look perfect, skinny, young, and fit for God. You just have to have a heart for Him. And when your heart is right, it helps you to exercise for the right reasons: not to “prove yourself worthy,” but to take proper care of the temple simply because you love God and He loves you!

Question 2 (Laura): I hurt my sacroiliac joint (low back) demonstrating how NOT to do an exercise while training instructors at a Gold Training. I was explaining the difference between WholyFit’s low risk “Helmet of Salvation” back exercise and yoga’s high risk “Cobra”  posture.  I demonstrated that even though they look similar, the technique is very different.  I demonstrated “Yoga Cobra” while narrating that this exercise does NOT conform to the safety standards of  both AFAA and ACSM for general population group exercise classes… and I hurt my back! I had to put ice on it immediately and 2 months later it’s still not healed completely! Right in the left dimple of my lower hip area it feels like a grizzly lump. Needless to say, I won’t do that again. My first question Dr Rita, is why would a sacroiliac injury cause profound constipation?! I haven’t been the same since the injury.

Answer (Dr. Rita):  When the soft tissue around the sacroiliac joint is tight, it can restrict normal motion of the joint and actually affect movement of other nearby structures, like the spine, hips, and other joints. It may even affect function of the nerves and blood flow to the large intestines through what’s called “somato-visceral” reflexes. Some people even get tightness of the muscles of the “pelvic floor,” i.e. “the pelvic diaphragm,” which, in turn can lead to “ribbon stools” (small diameter stools that occur when the muscles around the anus are very tight). When the pelvic floor muscles remain tight for a long time and restrict normal passage of the stool during elimination, people can have a perception of constipation (because the pelvic floor muscles are too tight to let the stool out) and even get hemorrhoids and/or have painful intercourse.

The semi-movable nature of the sacroiliac joint can be a problem when the uneven edges get misaligned or shifted due to trauma or improper exercise position under gravity (as you were explaining during the certification). Women who have had children are especially prone to displacement of these “mated” edges, due to the production of the hormone “relaxin” during pregnancy. Relaxin is made by the placenta and helps loosen the ligaments so the three bones of the pelvis can stretch apart to allow the baby to emerge through the birth canal. Unfortunately, some womens’ ligaments stay loose long after their placentas go away and their babies grow up. This makes them prone to injury in that area.

The sacroiliac joint can also become inflamed when it compensates for alignment issues and tight muscles in other parts of the body, like the lower limbs and middle back, especially. Every body part is indirectly connected to every other body part, after all.

Question 3 (Laura): I have felt terrible emotionally since the injury. How do low back injuries cause emotional stress or how do emotions contribute to low back stress?

Answer (Dr. Rita): Coping with pain drains your mental and emotional energy, leaving you feeling fatigued and irritable. But it can also happen in reverse order too.  Emotional fatigue and/or stress can lead to a perception of worsened pain. If your pain SHOULD be a 3/10 on physical grounds alone (e.g. due to a subluxation at your SI joint), your pain can “seem” like an 8/10 when you’re emotionally stressed. Stress makes pain feel worse. Emotional stress can also even contribute to that constipate you were talking about. Stress causes the release of adrenaline, which diverts blood away from the intestines.

The key to properly dealing with your emotions is to pinpoint what stirs them up and unplug those triggers at their roots. Often, your negative emotions are rooted in your baggage from the past. To get rid of that baggage and rectify your emotions, seek godly truth to replace lies that you believe about yourself deep down. Forgive those who hurt you or failed to do or be what you want from them. Repent from your sins and turn toward God. Releasing your fears and emotions to the Lord in daily Devotional times can really clear the air (not to mention your bowels).

Psalm 51:6 talks about seeking God’s truth in your inmost places, so ask God to help you get to the root of the emotions that make you hurt, physically. That way, if you do get physical problems that happen with aging and/or injuries, you can experience not only physical healing but also deep emotional and spiritual healing. To God be the glory!

Rita M. Hancock, MD