Myth: Back pain is “all in your mind,” so you should just ignore it.
Chronic pain of all kinds is linked to stress. People who are unemployed or have lower incomes have more back problems, some surveys indicate. In about 8 percent of American adults, low back pain is continual, recurrent, or lasts as long as six months. Back pain often comes along with other discomfort, anxiety, and insomnia. It’s a chicken and egg issue: pain that interferes with your life is a problem in itself, and fretting and sleep deprivation aggravate it.
The answer isn’t to call yourself “neurotic” or ignore your pain. If a life problem is weighing heavily on your plate (and shoulders or lower back), consider your pain a wake-up call. Look for a new job, talk to your husband about his drinking. Procrastination is anxiety-provoking; see if your pain lightens when you knock off even a task on the bottom of your list. On the other hand, you may be assuming too much responsibility. As the famous serenity prayer advises, seek “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Choose to make time — not just once but often and regularly — for the activities that relax you. Maybe you used to read novels on Sundays and now you only do chores. You may need solitude, walks in the park, or more socializing. You can also learn breathing and relaxation techniques. Self-help books for anxiety provide strategies to employ when you run into triggers — the office bully, the traffic snarl — that stiffen up your muscles.
March 27, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN