Mind & Body

The Emotional Roots of Back Pain

Most Americans will experience back pain. One controversial doctor claims that, three times out of four, it's all in our heads.

The Emotional Roots of Back Pain
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10 practices for a healthy back, mind, and spirit
If you have emotional baggage, there are ways to help unpack that toxic load and keep it from building up again, says Ann Kearney-Cooke, Ph.D., author of Change Your Mind, Change Your Body. The following steps will provide your entire self--back included--with some much-needed stress relief:
1 Get plenty of rest. When you skimp on sleep, your ability to handle stressful emotions decreases. Small problems can send you over the edge more quickly.
2 Prioritize the demands on your time. By overcommitting, you have fewer inner resources to cope with challenges. Figure out what activities are really essential and concentrate on those.
3 Know yourself. Things in the past (an unfaithful spouse, a miscarriage) color your reactions to current events. "It's like wearing emotional sunglasses," says Kearney-Cooke. Knowing your prejudices can help you recognize inappropriate responses.
4 Acknowledge your anger. That doesn't mean yelling obscenities. Instead, explore your feelings in a journal. Recognizing negative emotions can help you dispel them.
5 Distract yourself from stress. Call a good friend, head out for a walk, or rent a funny movie.
6 Don't sweat the small stuff. It can be tempting to react angrily when someone cuts you off on the highway or snubs you at a party. But stewing over minor insults will only impede your happiness.
7 Limit your frustration. If you've suffered a blow like getting passed over for a job, allow yourself to feel hurt and angry. "But put a limit on it," says Kearney-Cooke. "When the time expires, get on with your life."
8 Develop an inner applause meter. Your spouse, kids, and boss won't always appreciate you, so call their attention to major efforts. But sometimes the satisfaction of a job well done is its own reward.
9 Get plenty of exercise. A brisk half-hour on the treadmill boosts feel-good brain chemicals. "It won't solve your problems, but it will help release your anger," says Kearney-Cooke.
10 Eat healthy. Comfort foods high in fat and sugar may reduce stress hormones in the short run. But in the long-term, a well-balanced diet contributes to better brain chemistry and emotional stability.