For college students, the stress of finals and the end of the semester can do a lot more damage than just losing a few hours of sleep to studying. These intensely stressful weeks can actual manifest in physical pain, which is defined by the International Association for the Study of Pain as “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage…” (Move Forward PT). Stress enters this definition as the “potential tissue damage” – because stress does not only occur when we are in actual danger of injury.
According to WebMD, “Stress is the body’s reaction to harmful situations — whether they’re real or perceived.” Now, harmful situations mean different things to different people, and during finals, this can be an impending deadline to present a final project, your final grade, or test anxiety. This constant stress means that your body’s stress response is continuously firing, which can “put you health at serious risk” (Healthline). An example of this is stress showing up as physical pain in your body. “Your muscles tense up to protect themselves from injury when you’re stressed. They tend to release again once you relax, but if you’re constantly under stress, your muscles may not get the chance to relax. Tight muscles cause headaches, back and shoulder pain, and body aches” (Healthline). This muscular response from stress only worsens the cycle because now you have to worry about your physical pain and how to eliminate it.
It can be easy (and tempting) to turn to over the counter or prescription pain medications when your stress shows up as physical pain, but these treatments are only temporary, and they do not treat the root of the problem. Here are some great tips from Healthline to help manage and treat stress:
- Follow a healthy diet
- Get 7-8 hours of sleep every night
- Exercise regularly
- Cut back on caffeine and alcohol
- Stay actively connected with friends and family – they are a great support system!
- Set aside time each day to focus on self-care
- Start practicing some simple meditation techniques
With these seven tools, we know that you will finish finals week strong, and be better equipped to handle stress in the future. But, if the pain caused by your stress is still persistent, contact us to schedule an appointment with one of our physical therapists and together you can work towards feeling like the best you possible!