Wednesday, January 18, 2017

5 Weird Body Clues That Show You Are Stressed

Telltale signs that you are stressed can be surprising as well. Find yourself identifying with one or more of these clues? Assess what’s going on in your life.


Normally we associate stress with bad stuff happening, like losing a job or having too many deadlines. But stress is simply a reaction. You can be stressed by being promoted, getting a raise, and even by going on holiday.

#1 Flatulence. When you’re stressed, your body goes into flight or fight mode. This includes making changes to your digestive system. When you’re stressed continuously, this can cause an upset tummy, diarrhea, constipation and gas.

#2 Weird dreams. There are a lot of theories about why we dream, and if they have an impact on our health, but studies suggest we all dream at various points in the night, whether we remember them or not. While nothing can be done about dreams, some people find they dream more – and more vividly – when they’re stressed. So strange wild dreams can be a useful clue that you’re taking on too much in your life.

#3 Skin rashes, spots and pimples. When sweat glands are blocked, trapped moisture leads to inflammation such as spots and rashes. Sweating is normal in hot tropical countries like Singapore and Malaysia, but when you’re stressed, you tend to perspire even more. At the same time, being over-stressed can affect your immune system, which can also inflame skin issues like acne. If you have skin conditions like allergies, eczema or psoriasis, these are also more likely to flare up if you’re stressed.

#4 Muscle cramps. When you’re stressed, you may tense your muscles. After prolonged tension, this can lead to all kinds of cramps. Although you might have tummy cramps one day and foot cramp the next, a lot of people find that they are affected in a particular way. I get back pain and tension headaches when I’m stressed.

#5 Menstrual problems. Stress can make your periods arrive early, late or disappear altogether. Most annoyingly, it can increase period pain. In the long-term, stress can affect fertility for both men and women. If you’re worried about this, keep a diary that includes stress level notes for auditing and talk to your gynae.

Note: I have two jobs, author and counselling psychologist. This article first appeared on Malaysia Women's Weekly on 22 December 2016.  Go over and check out the free articles, and buy the magazine copy for even more goodies!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The psychology of sudden, severe back pain

I wrenched my back rescuing a tiny kitten from a storm drain some years ago, and every now and again it goes out of whack. No biggie.

Two weeks ago when my back went I did what works for me: muscle relaxants, anti inflammatories and I lie flat for a day or two. Then I go out and about, but slowly. I also take my back for a swim, because it's a good easy way to stretch.


I tend to avoid medical information online because I'm not a doctor and so I can't critically evaluate information. However, this popped up in one of my news feeds, 10 myths about back pain and as it happens, this is the advice I've had in the past. 

This time I hurt my back on Monday but by Wednesday I was okay again, swimming for thirty minutes, no problem. So on Friday I went out. I walked a mile or two, and ended up in a mall, looking for cat treats. While there, a wildly running child ran into my back, full tilt.

Courtesy Geralt Pixabay
Right.

Luckily I was too hurt to swear at the brat. I simply limped off, took a breather on a bench, and then went on to meet up with my friends as usual.

Three hours later I was home and lying flat again. The next morning I couldn't move. Any movement provoked screaming pain. And I mean, screaming. Full blown sciatica.

About Pain And Mind

Pain is subjective, and so are reactions, but this is my experience:
Courtesy Marcelabr Pixabay

Insight #1: Extreme pain is frightening. I didn't want to be touched, and it freaked me out if anything or anyone came near me.

Insight #2: The fear messes with your mind. When pain is extreme, there's just one message you can focus on: avoid it. Everything else becomes completely unimportant.

Insight #3: Real pain causes tears - lots of them. I was okay if I kept flat and totally still, but moving was agony. Sitting made me weep. Lying down after sitting made me cry too.

Insight #4: Pain is humiliating because it makes you helpless. I was completely aware of what pain was doing to me, but even so it made me feel dreadful that I was in floods, that I couldn't move, and that I was totally useless. Embarrassing.

Insight #5: Despite the pain, certain essentials are inevitable. When pain comes and goes, it takes a certain frame of mind to move through it. With my back, I found I could lie still and be okay.  It was just moving that hurt. Ideally I was going to lie totally still until my back stopped screaming at me. However, one must pee. 

I lay in bed, thinking that I should simply stop drinking water just to avoid the agony of making myself sit up and shuffle to the bathroom. Although it's ten feet away from the bed, it was taking me a full 20 minutes to get up and shuffle there. And I'm talking one way.

What helped me!

Helpful #1: Knowing what the issues were. Yes it was scary, humiliating and horrible all round, but understanding the connection between the physical and the mental helped me manage both.

Helpful #2: Putting the pain aside from me. This is a little harder to explain but what I find useful is to think of my painful back as not being part of the essential me. I am the person, the pain is just a nasty thing that's messing up the body that carries me. It's a way of distancing myself from the pain.  I talk about it that way too, by saying, "I take my back for a swim" and "I'm going to see how my back will take to doing this".

Helpful #3: A walking stick.  I found that a stick gave me certainty. Having a solid foundation to lean on made it easier to push through the pain when getting up and sitting down. I could also use the handle to pick stuff up.

Helpful #4: Shaping my environment. I rearranged my bedside table so that I had my ipad and connections all next to me. I moved all the loo paper so I didn't have to twist or reach. And once I got out of my bed, I moved everything in the kitchen and fridge to the top shelves so I didn't have to bend. 

Helpful #5: Telling my husband what I needed. The people who love you want to help, but they're not clairvoyant. This is common sense but it's amazing what we don't do "because we don't want to be a bother".

I realised that what I really, really missed was my early morning coffee. But the machine is downstairs, which was about an hour's travel. So I asked my husband if he could bring me coffee in bed. What a difference!

Helpful #6: Socialising!  I couldn't go anywhere and I certainly didn't want people coming round, but thanks to the Net I was able to Skype and chat with friends. Very cheering! 

Helpful #7: Serious drugs. If I'd been home in Spain, I would have gone straight to the doctor. It's not my first option now because I have had some very mixed results from seeing doctors in Malaysia.

To be clear, I've met lots of excellent ones.  However, there was the man who poked me with his pen because his religion forbade him to touch women who weren't related to him, and the woman who sold me "special" medicine that I later found in the chemist and supermarket - at ten times less than she charged me. We've also had media reports of bogus medical practitioners (like this one, and this one) and problems about faked results. As such, I was too scared to go to hospital and trust in an unknown doctor.

I went to see my GP who is a rock of common sense. She knows I'm paranoid about strange doctors so she gave me a lecture on when to go to emergency (e.g., if my leg went numb). I wanted to give it 24 hours so she gave me a shot of something. I'm sorry, but I can't remember the name, I think it was Olfen but it may have been a painkiller.

She also gave me Neurorubine Forte, a combo of vitamins B1, B6, and B12 that give your nervous system a kick and OLFEN 100, an anti-rheumatic, anti-inflammatory and analgesic.

After seeing my GP I was back in bed, exhausted with the pain and possibly the drugs too. I slept 14 hours and when I woke up, I felt a million times better. I made a point of shuffling about the house every hour on the hour. The day after that I woke up feeling another million times better. Actually, I felt fine.

WEIRD And that's the other thing about this kind of back pain: it's full on for days and then it disappears as quickly as it turned up. I'm told that nerves get pinched causing super pain and then unpinch just as suddenly. Maybe it's true, maybe it's not, but it does describe exactly how I felt. On the third day I felt bruised and a bit shaky, also nervous in case it came back, but I was okay.  Really.

Now I'm back to work, but being very careful. I lie down as often as I sit and I'm making a point this week of going for a swim every day.

Bottom Line

If you have sudden severe pain, expect to be frightened. Understand it may confuse you, so do have someone you trust to help you when you seek medical advice. Your trusted person needs to make sure all the questions are asked, and to keep track of what you need to do to get better.

Seeing pain comes with a lot of emotional upheaval, you may want to talk to someone like me. This is especially true if your pain is long term because pain and depression can go hand in hand.  So if you're suffering, for goodness sake reach out! 

And here's my professional plug: I work on Skype and Facetime, so you needn't leave your bed! Email me!