Stress Hangover

I woke up and my body felt as though I had run a marathon or taken a kick boxing class. My legs were sore, I had a tension headache, and my stomach felt off. As I started my day with a cup of coffee and some breakfast, I tried to pinpoint why my muscles were so sore. I didn’t think I could be sick…but did I wear the wrong shoes? Did I carry a heavy backpack? What was going on in my body? I began to realize that the stress from the day before was just now taking a toll on my body. 

Have you ever had a day like that? 

So stressful and tiring that your body belatedly responds with signals that you need to rest. 

Our bodies react to the mental noise that we create inside of ourselves. Oftentimes we don’t even realize we are doing it. We just go throughout the day carrying tension, go to sleep, and repeat the cycle the next day. Rinse, wash, repeat. It isn’t until we truly stop that we can bring awareness to the parts of our body that are screaming for attention. 

According to the American Psychological Association, “Muscle tension is almost a reflex reaction to stress—the body’s way of guarding against injury and pain.” 

Our minds are powerful! When we are feeling high levels of stress or anxiety our bodies naturally tense up. It’s our body’s way of protecting us. In a way, it is a beautiful thing that our bodies unconsciously react in order to keep us alive! But when that stress tension becomes perpetual, it’s time to listen to the signals your body is sending you. 

Maybe you are reading this and are rolling your eyes at the thought of making time to rest. Your schedule is packed, you have a family to care for, and most days you feel lucky to have five minutes alone to shower and get ready for the day. I get it! Here are five ways that I care for my body when I can feel the effects of stress weighing me down: 

  1. Fuel with nutrient-dense food: an extra donut the day after a lot of stress is not going to fuel your body and aid in recovery. Take time to listen to what your body needs and is craving. You want to fuel your body to heal properly and bring your stress levels down. 

  2. Take time to be silent. It might be hard for you to clear your house of silence. Maybe your morning routine is full of chaos and you just try to make it out of the door on time. But we all have places that can be silent, we just need to choose silence over noise. Tip: next time you’re tempted to open up Instagram, don’t. Instead take that time to truly tune within. 

  3. Move your body! Your body was designed to move! Honor that and wring out the tension. Sometimes I don’t even realize how tense my neck is until I am in a yoga class and the teacher comes up to me and has to say, “relax your neck and take your shoulders out of your ears." Move your body and honor what it needs. 

  4. Stretch your mental muscles. When I am anxious I am so focused on what is causing me tension that I feel like my mind is taking over. Learning something new can be liberating! The fact that you can read these words and comprehend what they are saying is truly miraculous. What else can you do with that? 

  5. Reduce shame and comparison. This last tip isn’t as specific. But the day after a stress-filled day can be full of constant shame. Why did I allow myself to get so worked up? Maybe reducing shame and comparison looks like shutting off social media and the constant chatter of our world to make us feel not good enough. Or maybe it looks like talking with a friend or a spouse and letting them affirm the beauty and wonder of who you are. 

Healing a stress hangover is so important to stop the cycle. It is an opportunity to pause and tune into the signals our body is sending us. 

Take the signals and lean into the places that need rest. 

Elyssa Schultheiss