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The Link Between Stress and Physical Health

When I was in 7th grade a strange thing happened to me.

During my yearly basketball season I was struck with a debilitating lower back injury. It was odd as there was seemingly no reason for the onset. No sudden twist, collision, or impact while playing that brought it on. The pain was so great it was sometimes tough to walk around, bend down, or even sit and lay still.

My parents were puzzled. We had it checked out by doctors, but they could see no reason for the pain. They thought it may have something to do with growth spurts, but even that explanation was lacking.

I’d never had back pain in my life prior to that point, so how was it possible for an otherwise healthy twelve year old boy to be hurting like this?

Stress is a Silent Killer

By now, most should know that stress is a silent killer.

It is widely known that stress can have serious implications on your mental health, being a main cause of anxiety and depression among a whole host of other mental and behavioral issues.

What is less known are the long term effects of ongoing, chronic stress, and the physical impacts it has on your body.

Cardiovascular diseases, obesity and other eating disorders, skin and hair problems, as well as sexual dysfunction. Your immune system is also weakened by stress leaving you more susceptible to illness and disease. The list goes on and on.

Though there are no official studies showing a link between chronic stress and cancer (that I have found at least), would anyone be surprised if there was a future study showing that to be the case?

While the lack of exercise and modern office working conditions (sitting in chairs all day) justly get the majority of focus for the physical issues of older people, is it really the combination of this plus chronic stress that results in their rapid physical decline?

We may never get a definitive answer on these questions, but regardless, it’s safe to say that ongoing, persistent stress can be devastating to your health – both mental and physical.

Stress and Physical Health in My Life

After that section would anyone be surprised to learn what the cause of my back injury was?

You got it: STRESS.

With no other answers, my parents did some digging to see if there was anything that was bothering me that I wasn’t telling them about.

Turns out there were a whole bunch of issues: It was the first time I was playing basketball for a coach that was not my dad (I was very fortunate in that my parents supported me growing up like that), and I did not like this new coach.

I didn’t like anything about him and how he treated people, coached, and the like. I also was not comfortable around some of the players on the team as well.

I was experiencing change, and I did not handle it well.

Instead of telling my parents about these changes and trying figure out how we could work to manage and handle them, I kept my thoughts, emotions and feelings bottled up inside and ignored them.

This is not a healthy thing to do people!

Left unaddressed, those negative emotions fed on themselves, and eventually manifested into an actual physical injury… how wild is that.

Leaving unchecked negative feelings and emotions within your body can literally be a poison that slowly eats away at you. It attacks you from the inside, chipping away at your mental health, and can even turn into physical pain in some cases.

I actually feel fortunate that this manifested into physical pain, as it was at this moment that I was either forced to address my issues and face them head on, or deal with the excruciating back pain in perpetuity.

Some of you may not believe this, but I can assure you this was true. Why am I so sure of this?

Because it just happened again last month.

Stress and Physical Health in My Life (Part 2)

After dealing with some stress related illnesses in high school/college, I learned to manage my stress much better once I entered the professional world.

In fact it’s gone so well that I could not even remember the last time I had taken a physical pill (advil, or anything). It had to have been at least 3-4 years.

But that all changed last month when suddenly my lower back flared up again, this time bringing my hips into the fold as well.

I remembered the excruciating pain like it was yesterday – I could not sit or lay still, and had to be constantly moving. I knew immediately this was stress induced. Again, there was no physical trigger to cause this, I’m no longer even playing sports and had not even worked out that week! (I know, shame).

After unsuccessfully trying to figure out the issues causing this for hours, I finally succumbed to taking some advil at 3am to allow me to fall asleep that first night – sometimes you just need help.

It took about a week, and some long talks with my very supportive significant other and timely visit to see my brother and parents in Philadelphia, but I finally figured out the causes behind this pain. Some of these issues had been deeply ingrained, and took some time to sort out. And wouldn’t you know it, once addressed and not bottled up inside me, the pain subsided within a few days and I was back to normal again.

It’s like the event never happened. And on top of it, I feel much more free and loose, like a weight has been lifted of my shoulders.

Change has a funny way of affecting people, and I’ve learned I don’t always handle it too well. This will likely be something I have to work on the rest of my life.

Financial Independence and Stress

The concept of reaching Financial Independence and retiring early (if you so choose) is an appealing and worthy goal to many.

It is why countless individuals have seemingly joined this greater community in the quest to reach this point in their life, where they truly have financial freedom and can do whatever they wish to do with their time.

While this objective is an admirable one, there is something that many people fail to consider along the journey: What is the toll you are placing on your mind and body to reach this goal?

There are many that are trying to reach Financial Independence as fast as possible. They may do so by working extremely hard and long hours trying to grow their income, or on the opposite end scrutinize and worry over every single purchase, giving little thought to the stress this may be causing them throughout.

They may think they can deal with the stress now, so they don’t have to stress later, but that’s not necessarily true. You will always have stress in your life, and that stress builds cumulatively.

The stress you incur when in your 20’s may not appear to have had an effect on you since your body may recover quickly, but it all adds up and it is likely to show it’s ugly side in the future if you aren’t careful.

This is why you should value your mental and physical health above all else on your journey to Financial Independence.

Having the financial freedom to do whatever you want is the goal, but if you don’t have your physical and mental health at that time, what do you actually have?

Combat Stress

Make sure you take care of yourselves people.

If you are having problems or issues in your life don’t hold onto and keep them to yourself like I do. Talk with someone about it, whether that’s a significant other, family member, good friend or therapist, make it someone!!

Sometimes just talking about issues and getting them out into the open is good for you to get off your shoulders. It’s better to have someone to share it with so you don’t have to fight your battles alone. I can be that person if you have no one else!

Another thing that helps me is to surround myself with positivity. There are a lot of negative people and negativity in general in the world.

When you see negativity, you can’t help but think about that. If you see negativity all the time, your thoughts will constantly be negative. That is never a good thing. Limit your exposure to negative people and things, and replace them with positive people and positive things. It’s such a simple thing, but it can help out immensely.

Finally, one other thing that really helps me is to break my problems and put them into two categories:

The things I can control, and the things I cannot control.

If it’s something I can control, great. I list out what I can do to help alleviate and resolve the potential issue. And then I go do them.

If it’s something I can’t control, why stress about it? There’s nothing I can do about it anyways, so stressing about it is literally just harming myself! We don’t like self-harm around here.

Of course, this is much harder to do in reality than that simple logic says to do. In these times I find it helpful to have some faith.

You don’t need to be a religious person, or believe in God to have faith in yourself.

Faith that you will figure things out no matter what life throws at you. Faith that things may not go how you want them to, but you can adapt and thrive. Faith that no matter what life or people or whoever does to get you down you will rise above it all and get to the place you want to be.

It may be naïve to think, but it’s something that gives me peace and helps me through the tough times and in those situations which I have no control over.

I hope you all take this message seriously and I wish you the best on this quest for a low stress and a mentally and physically healthy lifestyle!

.

Can you relate to this post? Have you ever had physical pain that resulted from stress? What are your best stress reducing tips?

14 thoughts to “The Link Between Stress and Physical Health”

  1. Thank you for sharing! I guess I’m lucky that I’ve never really had any major issues like this that resulted in pain. I am sorry you had to go through this!

    You said it in your post and it’s the way I operate: control what you can control. Luckily I’m not one who worries about much of anything, only if it’s something I can control. Then I will look to address whatever it is. Maybe I’m too care-free, but it’s just the way I am. If you ever need to talk or discuss something, feel free to reach out.

    1. Exactly, I like to imagine I am that good at separating but unfortunately it’s a lot tougher in practice! It’s something I’ll always be working on, but hey, in life there will always be challenges you have to work to overcome!

  2. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been hit by so much stress. Are things slowly starting to sort out now?

    Financial Independence is like the light at the end of the tunnel, so it’s easy to get tunnel vision and lose sight of self-care. This was a great reminder of that.

    1. Yea things are much better! I have a tendency to worry so much about things, even duh situations and events that are extremely unlikely. Things are looking up, though this is a battle that I think I’ll always struggle with.

  3. Sorry to hear that dude, but you’re right, so much of our physical health stems from our brain health.

    Another thing that helps me is to surround myself with positivity. There are a lot of negative people and negativity in general in the world

    I agree with that and my biggest advice would be to stay off social media. Even personal finance people who are normally nice have resorted to bullying and name calling recently on Twitter. Just don’t even look, it’s ugly. Get well

    1. I agree, I have been limiting my exposure to social media and especially twitter recently and found I don’t miss it too much. Things are much better and working to make sure this doesn’t happen again!

  4. Nailed it in two paragraphs, this is definitely one of your best posts:

    “This is why you should value your mental and physical health above all else on your journey to Financial Independence.

    Having the financial freedom to do whatever you want is the goal, but if you don’t have your physical and mental health at that time, what do you actually have?”

    The difficulty is that the journey to financial independence usually necessarily entails making compromises when it comes to one’s mental and physical health. One ends up needing to get uncomfortable to reach the comfort of FI. A bit of a conundrum indeed!

    HH

    1. Yes it is definitely a tough journey! I’m discovering there’s a whole lot more to this FI lifestyle and prospect than just the numbers. The numbers are the easy part, discovering who you are and what your ideal life is is the much tougher part!

  5. Great post. Mental health may be the most overlooked component of being content and happy in life. I think your last point about having faith in yourself is a powerful concept and as cheesy as it sounds, daily affirmations looking in the mirror really do work. I have adopted a daily routine that involves gratitude and claiming personal strength for just a minute or two each morning and have seen results.

    1. Thanks so much! I really hesitated writing that because it dies sounds cheesy, but it’s something I’ve found that really does help with my well being and overall mental state. I’m glad this helps and works for you too!

  6. It’s good that you recognize the symptom right away. At least, you have experience with it and know how to deal with the issue. I think a lot of people don’t realize their physical and mental issue are stress induced. Or maybe they do and they just try to tough it out and carry on.
    I had back and shoulder pain, panic attack, and depression when I was too stressed out at work. Taking some time off helped, but quitting was the right decision for me.
    It sounds like you’re doing better now so that’s great. Nice job fixing it.

    1. Thanks Joe, yes I really do think the mindset of many people (including myself) is to “tough it out” and ignore the slowly building stress from life. Sooner or later that needs to get addressed, and the sooner that happens, the better!

  7. Great post! I was just thinking of things I should do to lower my stress. I gained weight from it and am now getting depressed about it, and my immune system is shot this week. I’m a worrier by nature (my siblings as well)…my kids tell me that I shouldn’t worry so much.

    1. Thank you! Yes I know the feeling of being a worrier, it’s a constant struggle. I work on it everyday but it’s something that has to be addressed! The stress is just not worth it and can be very harmful as you’ve noted.

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