The ever-present connection between stress and the body
The busier I get, the more I notice my physical and emotional interactions
As a teacher, I couldn’t be more ready for winter break. And I’m not alone: Though we still have a few days before we’re done for a while, the students and staff can’t wait, either. I’m overtired, stressed out, and sore. And while I’m guessing many of my colleagues feel similarly, I think my experience is exacerbated by my Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS).
The past several months have been more stressful than usual. While the fall is always a busy time for me, as my local high school’s college/postgraduate counselor as well as a teacher, this year it’s been even more so. In addition to having all of my usual work, I lost my grandfather and have been managing an injured horse, plus I’ve recently brought my horses from their farm to live with me at my home.
That’s added several layers of pressure, and even though I know that stress and emotions are intertwined with my physical feelings, I’m still amazed sometimes just how much that’s true.
When my stress level goes up, I quickly feel it in my shoulders, which are already a source of struggle. I’m constantly doing my best to manage the shoulder that’s worse, and stress can quickly take me from standard EDS soreness to a full-blown pain flare. And for me at least, once those muscles knot up and are in “on” mode, they’re not going to let go without some intensive massage, even if the source of the stress dissipates. It’s tough to break the cycle.
I also tend to feel an overall physical and emotional soreness when I get as stressed as I’ve been recently. It’s hard to describe, but I guess I’d say that when my body is achy and gets tired more easily, I’m aware my mind can get overwhelmed and tire more quickly, too. I also seem to have a lower threshold for a physical pain flare. Similarly, my capacity to handle emotions is definitely diminished when I’m stressed, and small things that wouldn’t normally upset me can suddenly feel like big problems.
It’s fascinating to me that I can actually notice and feel how my physical pain and emotions work together. EDS can cause chronic fatigue, more frequent injury, and other physical ailments to go with my anxiety; the body and emotions do play off each another.
I’ve learned recognizing that connection is an important part of my being able to “slow the roll,” so to speak, of the inevitable snowball effect that can happen when my physical state and emotional stress begin to intertwine. It helps to remind myself of that connection and keep my stress levels in check so that I feel the best I can. It’s also important to remember the reverse and admit that the stress and anxiety I feel is likely magnified by my physical discomfort.
When I’m conscious of this dynamic, I can maintain my objectivity at a time when emotions can easily take over if I’m not careful. That in turn helps me manage these interactions of stress and EDS — important in an emotional time like the days before winter break!
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