How stress can make your recovery slower

Everyone has experienced some form of injury or pain in their lifetime and so we all know the effects that this can have on our daily lives. It can interrupt our work life, our ability to complete our normal day-to-day tasks, our relationships and social life. There is no doubt that we all want to get better as quick as possible to just get ‘back to normal’. There are a lot of physical things you can do to help optimise your recovery such as pain relieving measures, seeking out treatment from a health professional and stretches/exercises to keep you moving. However did you know that is is just as important to look after your mental health to help your physical recovery?

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What is Stress?

Stress can be defined as a state of physical, mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances. In some cases it can be a good thing as it is a result of our “fight or flight” response system. This is the system that comes in to play when we are in a dangerous situation. The stress response causes hormones to be released in the body that bring about various changes such as an increased heart and breathing rate, increased muscle tension and a decrease in digestive activity. This is all great if you are being chased by a lion but not so ideal on a day-to-day basis. Some of the effects of sustained stress response include:

  • Muscle aches
  • Weight Gain
  • Low energy
  • Stomach cramps
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Chest Pain
  • Nausea/dizziness
  • Altered emotions – anxiety, depression, agitation, mood swings, lack of motivation
  • Reduced concentration
  • Behavioural changes – withdrawal from activities, increased eating and alcohol use, poor hygiene, teeth clenching
  • And a lot more!

So How Does this Impact My Recovery?

After you experience an injury, your body undertakes many processes to aid in pain relief and tissue healing. The hormones released as pastress and injuryrt of the stress response (such as Cortisol and Adrenaline) result in increased blood pressure, blood sugars and cholesterol which affect the process of tissue healing. It has been shown that stress also has a negative effect on your immune system which can delay healing and in the case of open wounds can also increase risk of infection.

Behavioural changes due to stress can also have a very large impact on recovery. Stress often results in resorting to behaviours that negatively impact our immune and healing response such as poor diet or increased eating, alcohol use, increase smoking frequency, withdrawal from exercise, increased sedentary behaviours and poor sleep.  

What Can I do About it?

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Stress comes in all shapes and forms and so the first thing to do is recognise where your stress might be coming from. These can be external stresses such as major life changes or unexpected work or home situations, such as an injury which may mean you are unable to work for a period of time. Sometimes these things can be out of our control and so reducing our external stress comes from finding ways to build resilience and strategies for helping to manage how we respond to these situations. Other times our stress can be internal – this is more about how we perceive the demands on us. Stress is a part of life and no matter where your stress is coming from there are lots of ways to help manage it:

  • Exercise! Even small amounts of regular physical activity help to improve mood and emotional state, reduce heart rate and blood sugars which helps with tissue healing. This can be hard if you have had any injury but maintaining some form of exercise is very beneficial. If you are unsure of what you should or shouldn’t do a Physiotherapist can help
  • Mindfulness and Relaxation – such as meditation, deep breathing exercises and mindful exercise (such as yoga or Tai Chi). These have all been shown to help reduce stress. There are several mindfulness/relaxation apps that are free to download such as Headspace, Smiling Mind and Insight Timer
  • Eliminate unnecessary stress – when your circumstances change (such as with an injury) it is okay to recognise that you might need some extra help for a while. And it is okay to say no sometimes!
  • Keep up your healthy habits! Make time for your self. Eat well (see our blog on foods that can help fight inflammation). Stay hydrated.
  • Do anything….ANYTHING…that helps you feel more relaxed. Listen to music. Go for a walk. Pat a puppy.
  • Get your Zzzzzz’s. Stress can often inhibit sleep or cause disrupted sleep – see our previous blog on sleep hygiene for some great tips
  • Be patient and kind to yourself
  • Get help if you need it – it may be just talking to a friend or family member. If you need help with strategies to help manage your stress it is helpful to talk to a counsellor or psychologist

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Allissa King




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