Small Gestures: Simple techniques to manage tension and minor pains on the road

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Road King


By Phyllis Hanlon

Some days you feel as if you are stuck in a pressure cooker. Traffic, deadlines, issues at home that you can’t deal with because you’re on the road. It happens to everyone at some point.

So how do you ease the stress and bring on the calm?

A simple technique known as mudras might help. An ancient practice dating back to ninth century India, mudras integrates hand movements with self-awareness and conscious breathing to reframe thinking, according to Emily Fuller Williams, LMT and author of Mudras: Ancient Gestures to Ease Modern Stress.

To release anxiety, Williams recommends the “calmness” mudra. It can be done in your truck, as long as you aren’t moving. Sit straight and bend the elbows so the forearms are upright, hands at ear level. Rotate the hands back and forth at the wrist (like screwing in a light bulb), keeping your fingers extended. While performing this gesture for three minutes is ideal, some people notice a difference in mood within seconds, she says.

When both hands need to be on the steering wheel, mudras can be challenging to perform. But Williams notes that pulling gently on one earlobe can lower stress levels while driving. “When there are too many ideas in your head, this helps to drain some of them out,” she says. “You don’t get the full effect, but it’s better to do with one hand than not at all.”

Williams also suggests a “balance” mudra to re-center the body. With the hands resting on the belly, thumbs touching, place the back of the left hand in the palm of the right and breathe deeply. “This helps send lots of extra energy to the head through the fingers, helping to balance the brain,” she says,

Push and pull

Traffic congestion or other frustrations may lead some drivers to clench their jaw, which can lead to other problems. Donald R. Tanenbaum, DDS, MPH, co-author of Doctor, Why Does My Face Still Ache?, says, “Fatigued jaw muscles will likely lead to headaches in the temples, tightness or pain in the jaw muscles, limited jaw motion, ear pain and pain in the joints of the jaw itself.”

When that happens he advises truckers to place the tongue on the roof of the mouth, position a thumb or fist under the jaw and attempt to open your mouth. The resistance helps ease jaw tension and temple headaches. For neck tightness, he suggests pushing the forehead against the palm and holding. Repeating these exercises several times a day should help reduce accumulated pressure in the neck and head.

Stretches may also help untie knotted muscles. Scott Gottlieb, MD, director of pain management at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary in Manhattan, says, “Flexing your neck slowly side to side, and backwards and forwards, will relieve neck tension.” Do not roll your neck in one continuous circle — that can lead to injury.

For leg and back tightness, he proposes straight-legged ankle rolls to get the blood flowing again.

In the air

Stopping to smell the roses may induce appreciation for life, says Kelly Holland Azzaro, RA, CCAP, LMT, president of the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy, but citrus scents are particularly helpful in dispelling stress. “Lemons, sweet orange and grapefruit help elevate your mood and relieve stress,” she says. She suggests putting a drop of diluted essential oil on a tissue and inhaling the aroma. “Or you could use a plug-in diffuser. The warmth sends the scent into the cab.”

While there’s no escaping stress, some simple remedies may keep you on course and in good health.

Avoid the Emotional Pitfalls of Pain

By Wyatt Myers
Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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Coping with chronic pain is never easy. But for some, the day-in, day-out impact of living with pain can lead to a second assault — emotional issues like frustration, anxiety, and eventually depression. And poor emotional health can further exacerbate physical pain, leading to a worsening of physical symptoms.

“What happens in the mind and emotions affects the physical body and vice versa,” says Katherine Puckett, PhD, LCSW, the national director of mind-body medicine for the Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

“Feelings of anger, depression, and anxiety contribute to stress, which in turn has physical effects such as increased muscle tension, increased heart rate, reduced functioning of the digestive system, increased inflammation in the body, and increased activity in the sympathetic nervous system that results in release of stress hormones,” say Puckett. Any or all of these physical effects of stress may in turn increase pain. And increased pain may make a person feel more depressed. It can be a vicious cycle if you don’t interrupt it.

How Pain Impacts Emotional Health

Chronic pain doesn’t necessarily doom you to depression or other emotional problems, but pain does lead to some situations that can make emotional issues more likely, says Scott Gottlieb, MD, of Gramercy Pain Management in New York. “Someone who is in pain stays home, feels frustrated, and can’t do what they used to do,” he says. “This impact of pain on activities of daily living can cycle some patients into a depressive state.”

Anxiety in particular often occurs when there’s uncertainty about what’s causing the chronic pain, adds Dr. Gottlieb. “For example, if someone is having headaches and nothing shows up in any tests or studies, it’s often hard for a patient to accept it’s just nerve pain as a diagnosis,” he says. “They feel pain in their head all day and are anxious that it is something more serious even though other serious causes have been ruled out.”

Managing Chronic Pain Emotions

These strategies can help you break free from the spiral of emotional problems leading to even more pain:

  • Try counseling. Even if you don’t feel like you have full-blown depression or anxiety, a visit with a counselor can help stem the tide of pain-related emotions before they get worse. “A good therapist will listen, get to know the person, gain an understanding of what he or she is going through, and offer helpful reflections and suggestions,” says Puckett.
  • Exercise more. Puckett says regular exercise is one of the best antidotes to both emotional problems and pain. And it doesn’t have to be an intense exercise that might exacerbate your pain either. If your doctor approves, “taking walks, enjoying nature, or playing with pets are all good choices,” Puckett says.
  • Try deep breathing. Philip Wazny, NMD, a naturopathic medical doctor and pain specialist at Integrative Health Care in Scottsdale, Ariz., recommends a simple stress- and anxiety-reducing technique. “For beginners, taking as little as 10 minutes a day to focus on your breathing can be a game changer,” he says. “I recommend that people sit in a quiet space and focus on their breath. It sometimes helps to count to seven while inhaling, hold the breath for two seconds and then exhale for eight seconds. By exhaling for a little longer, patients are forced to use accessory muscles that cause a reflexive inhalation of healing oxygen.”
  • Write it down. “Patients may benefit from keeping a pain log to chart their symptoms,” says Anand Gandhi, MD, a physician at the Laser Spine Institute. “This allows you to monitor pain over time and objectively compare from one day to the next.”

Above all, keep a positive attitude. It may be difficult at times, but Dr. Gandhi says this is critically important to not falling into the depths of anger, depression, or emotional distress. “Chronic pain causes both emotional and physical changes in many patients,” he says. “It is important that patients maintain a positive attitude and avoid allowing the pain to consume their lives.”