I know from my own experience that during times of intense stress (like packing to move from Canada to Australia!), I can have some pretty awful headaches. The muscles in my neck and shoulder blade tense up like rocks, and I can have headaches that last for days, no matter how much Advil I take.
But stress isn't always bad. Our nervous system is designed to protect us from threats and danger. During a perceived stressful event, the sympathetic nervous system triggers the fight-or-flight response. This response provides the body with a burst of energy, enabling us to respond to perceived dangers in the environment.
During a stress response, our breathing becomes shallow. We breathe with our chests to get more oxygen into our bodies faster. As a result of this breathing pattern, our accessory breathing muscles - upper traps, sternocleidomastoid, pectoralis major, and scalenes, crank on to bring in more air, giving us more energy.
This fight-or-flight system protects us during short periods of stress. However, we live in tough times, so many of us are experiencing chronic daily stress like never before. And without even realising it, you may be stuck in the shallow, chest-breathing pattern.
Chronic stress can lead to tightness, tension, and knots in the muscles around our necks, leading to headaches. But those aren't the only reasons we may get headaches from chronic stress.
During the fight-or-flight response, our bodies get ready to run or fight.
How does that present?
As you can see, when we're about to run or fight, the shoulders become rounded, and the head drops forward. Under times of prolonged stress, this "rounded shoulders, dropped head" posture may be the one we habitually find ourselves. This type of posture can overload our spinal joints and tighten our muscles, leading to headaches.
Fight-or-flight protects us, but our heads are not happy when we are chronically in this state.
How can you manage chronic stress?
First, I suggest NeuroCalm by Metagenics. This blend of herbs helps to support healthy stress responses
and calm the mind. I take two tablets each day to help support my nervous system.
My second suggestion is a powerful breathing exercise called the spinal rotation exercise. This exercise expands our capacity to breathe through the diaphragm, relaxing our upper traps, SCM, and scalenes, and shutting down our stress response by activating the parasympathetic nervous system via the vagus nerve. Be sure to watch the video (above) with instructions on how to do this calming exercise.
And of course, my final piece of advice is to see one of the fantastic chiropractors at Balanced for Life. Chiropractic adjustments are a powerful way to improve your posture and restore movement to achy joints. And, our MLS medical laser can help relax and calm tight muscles.
For further tips, be sure to read Dr Lindy's blog in March 2021 about how adjustments help transition the body into the rest and digest mode of the nervous system.
I hope these tips help with your stress management and headaches.