Relieve Stress, Anxiety, and Chronic Pain

by Darra McMullen,
Women’s Health Network Writer/Researcher    


As we continue to celebrate May’s national observation of women’s health, let’s look at some of the news regarding leading concerns in women’s daily lives.  Among the most common issues women deal with on a daily basis are stress, anxiety, tension, chronic pain, and fatigue.  We’ll take a brief venture into the latest news on how to reduce symptoms of all of the above problems.

            To begin, let’s start with some simple diet and lifestyle tweaks that can lower anxiousness, stress, tension, and fatigue.

              • The Journal of Affective Disorders reported on a study co-authored by Johan Eriksson, M.D.  The study concluded with the importance of incorporating at least one cup of spinach, romaine, or other leafy greens into the daily diet to relieve risk of anxiety.  Study results showed a 45% cut in anxiety risk following daily “greens” intake.  The B vitamin, folate, common in leafy greens, is thought to be responsible for the improvement, due to folate’s ability to increase mood-stabilizing serotonin.

              •  Red-skinned peanuts, specifically a ½ cup daily serving, has been shown to noticeably ease worrying and increase relaxation in as little as four days, according to study results reported by researcher, Dalia Saleh, Ph.D.

            •  German researchers have discovered that a daily cup of yogurt with live and active cultures can calm nervousness in general and help a case of “the nerves” brought on by “scary” social situations, such as meetings or parties, in particular.  Yogurt’s friendly bacteria release chemicals into the digestive tract that help calm the brain, promoting a peaceful attitude and clear, sharp thinking.

            •  The National Institutes of Health reports that consuming one or two cups of coffee daily can reduce risk of depression by 10%.  Other studies show that women who drink four cups of coffee per day have rates of depression at just half that of the depression rates of women who drink just one cup per day.  Coffee’s anti-oxidants, rich scent, and caffeine are all thought to contribute to a brighter mood and lowered stress level.  Even coffee haters can benefit some, simply by smelling of a container of ground coffee.  The strong scent of coffee can lower levels of stress producing proteins in the brain.  Caffeine sensitive individuals will still benefit greatly from consuming decaffeinated coffee; the anti-oxidants and relaxing scent are still present in decaffeinated coffee varieties.

            •  Fatigue can be fought off with a regular stretching regimen, according to scientists at Bastyr University in Kenmore, Washington.  Researchers found that spending as little as 60 seconds every hour to stretch major muscle groups in the arms, legs, and torso can stimulate sensory neurons to signal the brain to release endorphins, which are energizing substances in the body.


Chronic Pain:

            Chronic pain is one of the most common (and difficult) things to treat in people’s lives.  This statement is especially true for working women who often must spend many long hours each day in clothing and/or positions that aggravate a chronic pain condition in order to work, raise children, tend to domestic matters, and care for elders.
            Readily available Western medicine pain remedies are of limited value.  Common over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or aspirin can be taken only in limited doses for relatively short periods of time without risk of serious side effects.
            Opioid based painkillers create risk for the patient in terms of addiction, drowsiness, and terrible constipation.
            So what is a chronic pain sufferer to do under these dreadful circumstances?
            Fortunately, there are some other options that can reduce misery, even in some cases, eliminate it entirely.  Some options that used to be scoffed at by traditional Western medicine doctors are now being accepted, even recommended, by Western medicine.  Integrative medicine clinics run by U.S. medical doctors are now including options like acupuncture, acupressure, chiropractic services, mindfulness-based pain reduction methods, and simple heat to lower pain levels in chronic pain patients.
            The above mentioned methods were, at one time in our nation’s history, belittled as, at best, ineffective and at worst, “quackery”.  Today, most people know better, and these methods are getting the attention and respect they deserve for pain reduction.  These methods are now becoming sufficiently “mainstream” that one can easily find references to them in general media, not just special interest publications or health related journals.  In fact, the May 2017 issue of Woman’s Day features a generous amount of space devoted to an article on these very topics.
            Although integrative medicine techniques can be quite helpful, you should check to be sure the particular practitioner you’re considering using is a real, thoroughly educated and credentialed practitioner.  There are charlatans out there; so, “buyer beware” when choosing a therapist.
            Any practitioners (for acupuncture, acupressure) without traditional Western medicine medical degrees need to be certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
            Also, check out the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine website at abihm.org for additional information.
            The American Chiropractic Association directory at acatoday.org is another excellent source of credentialed practitioners in the chiropractic discipline.


Other Pain Relief Tips:

            •  Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has been in the news again lately.  Some 22 studies now suggest that curcumin reduces stiffness, swelling, and pain by 50% or more in three months of regular use.  Enjoy turmeric liberally in your food if you like the flavor it imparts to meats, soups, and stews.  Consider taking curcumin supplements in pill form for chronic pain if you have no “contraindications” for doing so; check with your regular M.D. about any potential conflicts with prescription drugs you’re taking or special physical problems that would negate your taking a curcumin supplement.

            •  Don’t forget the benefits of exercise in a pain relief program.  Exercise not only increases the output of pain relieving endorphins, but it also increases circulation to troubled tissues, and relaxes muscle spasms.  A study detailed in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research shows that even a daily 20-minute walk can help ease pain and muscle spasms and speed healing as well as a weekly professional massage.  Start an exercise program slowly and gently and allow your body to adjust; you’ll feel better for it, not worse.

•  Recent Canadian research shows that increasing protein intake (within reasonable limits, of course) can increase serotonin output and improve pain thresholds, reducing chronic pain by around 35% within about 10 days for most study participants.  Aim to add a four to six ounce serving of lean poultry, red meat or seafood daily to your diet for best results.


Hopefully, all of the above information will aid you in your quest for a less stressful and more pain free life.  There are options out there to help you; go forth with an attitude of expectance and determination and find the combination of answers that is right for you.  

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