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The Physical Effects of Stress on the Body

Article by Kirsty–PPPSS telephone support staff

Photo Credit: www.andreapaterson.com

Stress. I feel it in my back, mainly between my shoulder blades. I sometimes daydream that my daughter will grow up to be a massage therapist  and will need to use my back for her homework. In the meantime, I use a tennis ball to wrinkle out the kinks in my upper back, hoping that I do more good than damage. Booking a massage appointment can seem like such a luxury, both in time and money. And without a regular trusted massage therapist, there’s always the fear that I’ll be disappointed, left more frustrated because I didn’t get the release I so needed. And so the tennis ball and I have become close friends.


Stress finds places deep within our muscles.  Through stress, our body is trying to talk to us. After the birth of my daughter, I l felt truly betrayed by my body – why wasn’t it healing faster, why does my heart pound so much with fear and anxiety? Part of my healing has been getting to know my body better and listen to its rhythms and instead of being angry with it, I try to understand the weight it bears. As children we are naturally ‘embodied’ – spontaneous and present, breathing with fullness and ease. As we grow older and become mothers, we sometimes lose our connection to our body as our children’s demands seem so much more important than that tight neck or sore back.  When we are depleted, we may find ourselves becoming more physically and mentally rigid and less willing to take chances. This inflexibility, both in mind and body, can chip away at our vitality. Our mind and our body sometimes feel like they work against each other. Stressful moments challenge our comfort in our own skin.


With a young child in the house, I get sick a lot. So much more than than before I had kids.  I find my upper back tightening up from coughing and lack of exercise. I really want to exercise and be healthy, but my sinus headache is just too penetrating. I’m frustrated, things once again not going the way I hoped. I realize that I’m angry about being sick yet again and that my whole body is tightening up in response. So how can I support my body and how can my body support me?


First of all, I try to stop and slow down for 5 minutes so I can figure out what needs the most attention. I may start my recognizing where my body hurts. Sometimes I just rub my temples for a few minutes and do nothing else but absorb how that feels. When my back is sore from coughing I might just sit intentionally with good posture for a few minutes and see how that feels. I try to acknowledge the pain and accept that today might be challenging both in body and in spirit. But what I don’t need to do is to add to my pain my stressing about what is out of my control. My body is doing its best. And I will do my best to support it. Together we’ll get through the day and hopefully feel a bit more whole tomorrow.
Ten minutes here and there can be a start to finding out what it is to be in our bodies. Listening to our bodies can help us understand what needs attention. Ultimately, the more relaxed we can feel in our bodies, the more confidant we become. The more we trust our intuition. Our bodies may still disappoint us, but we’ll be a better friend to it when it does. We’ll show it kindness not hatred.  At Pacific Post Partum Support Society, our group support meetings often begin with a few minutes to settle into our bodies. Even these short practices can help with the stress and anxiety that we so often experience in parenthood.




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