When mental and emotional demands become physical pain (Part 1)

When mental and emotional demands become physical pain (Part 1)
Updated 30 April 2014

When mental and emotional demands become physical pain (Part 1)

When mental and emotional demands become physical pain (Part 1)

Have you ever experienced tension across your shoulders and neck and not knowing the reason for it? If you did, then you are one of those sensitive people who keep their emotions blocked within. Mental and emotional pressures translate into painful stiff shoulders and neck, backaches, irritable bowls, nervous stomach, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, high blood pressure, and more.
Each one of us stores his or her tensions in different ways and has little control over them unless we recognize the stressors and their imprints on our bodies. Only after the symptoms become chronic, do we start thinking of treatment. Visit after visit to doctors and physiotherapists bring no significant result or immediate cure, but only a little relief. Total relief only comes by addressing the underlying cause. By analyzing our emotions and situations, we are able to fathom the problem and tackle the emotional stress that is causing the muscle pains. You cannot cure the aches without directing your attention to the stress that is causing them.
Today, I am going to discuss why certain body muscles tense up, creating painful stiff knots around the neck, shoulders, upper and lower back, backside, arms, and legs, when we are under tremendous emotional and mental pressure. I wrote about stress in earlier articles, but today, I shall tackle it from a different angle to create awareness of how our bodies unconsciously react to emotional and mental stressors, anxiety, and fear.
Experiencing stress is a normal body response and stress kept under control is not harmful. Once upon a time millenniums ago, stress was in the form of fear of a chasing wild beast or invading warriors. Our ancestors learned to manage this type of stress to survive with fight or flight responses, even though some did not make it.
However in the 21st century, the face of stress has changed. Safety and security are not everyday issues. Instead, modern pressures have evolved to become long-term emotional and mental demands at home, on the road, and in the workplace. Stressors are caused by financial issues, rush-hour traffic, competitive work, job loss threats, and deadlines. Such demands make our glands release inflammatory stress hormones, which circulate in our systems for prolonged periods, resulting in detrimental physiological and psychological damage. Let us see how mental and emotional stressors creep into bodies and muscles and create physical pain without our awareness, making treatment long and difficult, unless we help ourselves.
Today’s life has become filled with seemingly innocuous pressures on daily basis. These range from delayed flights, emotional stressors (obligations, fear of failure…), sleep loss, physical demands, important scheduled appointments, and traffic jams to deadlines in deskbound jobs and sitting for hours in front of computers to finish projects. When you are in such a situation or position for a long time with your neck elongated forward trying to follow the traffic or eyes locked on the computer, the prolonged incorrect positions trigger an imbalance in the upper area of the body, making the neck and shoulder muscles support the weight of the unaligned head and spine. The locked position and fixed eyes along with insufficient breathing cause tension in the neck and shoulder muscles, resulting in muscle stiffness and knots, which are accompanied by excruciating pain.
To prevent and ease muscle tension, you should rotate your neck; stretch your arms and muscles; shake your shoulders; stop staring on the book or computer; look into the distance through the window; and move your eyes to both corners and upwards and downwards every now and then.
Check this for yourself; put three fingers horizontally at the back of your neck to the right or left just below the edge of the skull bone. Now move your eyes to the left and right without moving your neck. You can actually feel a movement under the tip of your three fingers synchronized with your eye movement. Every time you move your eyeballs from side to side, a neck muscle moves with the eye movements. Your eye and neck muscles are connected on both sides of the spine at the base of your skull.
A little self-massage can help by rubbing gently around the skull base and other tense areas with your fingers and hands to relieve the tension. Try to correct your head position and align it with your body when you are at your desk, in front of the computer, or in the driving seat. Don’t forget to breathe deeply all the time to ease tight muscles.
When you are in a tense situation, stunned by unwelcome news or under mental or emotional pressure with inability to solve a problem, your shoulders move upwards. The upper muscles across the shoulders and neck contract and stiffen and you also forget to breathe deeply enough to allow them to relax and de-contract. The unconscious reflex results in neck and shoulder stiffness and knotted painful muscles in the neck, at the base of skull, across the shoulders, around the shoulder blades, and along the upper spine. Because shallow breathing is at the base of such stiffness, you need to learn to deep breathe by inflating your belly and deflating it slowly.
Sit in an upright position on the floor with legs crossed or lie on your back with arms and legs slightly apart in a relaxed position. Inhale slowly and deeply filling your rib cage and belly; stop and hold in the breath; and then exhale slowly at the same pace by emptying your belly of air completely. Repeat several times and prolong inhalations, pauses, and exhalations until you are totally relaxed.
Another helpful way is massaging the tense areas of your neck and shoulders with your hands. Rotate your neck; shake your shoulders and arms; and then stand up and drop your upper body forward with your arms along straight legs. It is important to continue breathing deeply to let go of the tension.
Apart from the release of stress hormones in the body, shallow and insufficient breathing and not changing positions are at the base of muscular tension. The areas where muscle tension strikes depend on individual weaknesses. Tension and illnesses manifest themselves in weak body points or according to genetic disposition.
Another area where tension targets is the upper back. Due to slumping shoulders, bad back positions of rounded shoulders (hunched), and deskbound and driving positions, you can end up with tight painful muscles in the upper back and the chest. To relieve the contracted muscles and correct hunched shoulders, you need to stretch backward while sitting in your chair throwing your open arms beyond your head and back and arching your back. Repeat several times to relax the front and back muscles. The bridge pose in yoga where you arch your back by lifting it away from the mat and supporting your body with your feet flat on the floor stretches the front and back muscles.
Next week, I shall continue exploring the different stress points and how to relax and stretch the muscles with physical activity, stretching exercises, massage, and yoga poses along with deep breathing, meditation, nutritious diet, and supplements.

Individuals with medical conditions or on medication should consult their physicians when they decide to introduce anything new in their diet even if it is natural. The previous Health Solutions articles are located at www. arabnews.com

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From comedy to healthcare – why Bassem Youssef wants you fighting fit

From comedy to healthcare – why Bassem Youssef wants you fighting fit
Updated 24 January 2021

From comedy to healthcare – why Bassem Youssef wants you fighting fit

From comedy to healthcare – why Bassem Youssef wants you fighting fit

DUBAI: Bassem Youssef is on a mission for the masses – and the topic is definitely no laughing matter.

For the Egyptian surgeon-turned-comedian – mainly known in the region for his standup and satire – is concerned with the serious health issues the Middle East is facing.

“The rates of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, are exploding (in this region) – the percentages were not this high 30, 40 years ago,” he tells Arab News. “I think we need to do something about it. We have been adopting the Western lifestyle of eating, and so we’re suffering from the same diseases now.



“We need to take a step back and try to modify our approach to food and our lifestyle.”

Youssef’s latest TV project forms part of that mission.

Is’al Bassem’ – which translates into ‘Ask Bassem’ – is a new weekly programme on Asharq News that focuses on “challenging traditional food myths'' whilst introducing viewers to “doctors, athletes, and influencers who have changed their lives through a balanced diet”.

Youssef, 46, who has been following a vegan diet himself for over eight years now, wants to show that the current health crisis in the Middle East can be reversed.



But he’s the first to admit that change won’t happen overnight, citing challenges such as “elevated levels of lifestyle, more money, the introduction of fast food and international chains, and people using meat as a sign of status.”

He elaborates: “I make this joke a lot – that when you talk to people about their lifestyle and food, they attack you more (compared to) when you talk about politics or religion!

“And I get that, but I’m not even criticizing what they do. I am criticizing the marketing around it; I'm criticizing the science that promotes an unhealthy lifestyle. It's really up to the people to choose.”

‘Is’al Bassem’ isn’t Youssef’s first foray into health and wellness content. The personality launched Plant B, a media portal dedicated to plant-based eating and more, in 2019.

“There has been a very positive impact, and I see it every day. I see it with people sending me messages telling me how it has affected their life for the better – that's what keeps you going,” he says. “I think this initiative has touched a lot of people’s lives, so I am quite happy and proud of it.”



No looking back

So where did this love for plant-based eating initially come from?

“I still remember the date: 15 September 2013, because it's the day that I met with my friend who had MS (multiple sclerosis), and he kind of converted me.”

On the Plant B website, Youssef explains that his friend overcame MS through changing his diet.

And while he himself went “cold turkey” in following his friend, Youssef advises against that approach, instead encouraging others to go slow and steady.

“My advice is to read and to take it in baby steps. Try and take out one group of food; (start with) dairy. If you feel better, take out a second group. I always say that any change is good.”

Going beyond TV



Youssef’s mission isn’t just reserved for what he presents on the small screen. He’s keen to turn it into something greater that has the potential to influence and improve public health policies.

“I consider ‘Is’al Bassem’ a stepping stone. Plant B was a stepping stone. And I want to actually extend that beyond the boundaries of television and media,” he reveals. “I want to make a real impact in society. I want to be able to one day speak to governments; to try to change policies; to make an impact on the way people think about lifestyle, healthcare initiatives, and healthcare policies.

“And I think we can do that. It has already been done in the United States, and I think we have an even better chance of doing it here in the Arab world.”

So is it out with the old career and in with the new? Does this mark the end of ‘Bassem Youssef: Political Satirist’?



“No, because I’m still doing comedy that is related to politics, but in the United States,” he says. “My beginning (was) in Arabic on a show called ‘Al Bernameg’ in Cairo. Now, I live in the United States, I still do comedy, and all of my comedy is still politically-oriented. But it's now done in English.”

“People judge you based on their perception of what you present and if it's still relevant to them or not... but I am the product of the environment that I live in. I'm living in the United States as an immigrant, and I speak towards that. So I hope it doesn't get old!”

He continues: “The thing with Plant B and ‘Is’al Bassem’ is that it's not a replacement... This is a side passion project that I've been doing for years. It's an addition to what I do.”