Most of us are probably familiar with the muscle soreness that comes from a (well-executed, clearly) workout. But just because we’re inclined to associate soreness with some pretty serious fitness gains, that doesn’t mean that a grueling session of burpees or a couple sets of bicep curls are the only things that result in soreness. In fact, when you’re feeling a little sore without the workout piece of the puzzle, the pain may have more to do with stress than exercise.
“When we get stressed, our bodies go into fight or flight mode,” says massage therapist Jared Gough. “The muscles tighten up to protect themselves. These contracted muscles make it very difficult for excess fluids from the adrenal glands – such as adrenaline – to be released naturally. Instead, these fluids are retained and inflammation occurs. The muscles are tight and the excess fluid pools and settles in the muscles, and this causes soreness.”
Unfortunately, when most of us get stressed out, whether it’s because of work, finances, relationships, or the like, we’re often tempted to just work through that stress. But that ends up making an already not-so-great situation a lot worse, since the stress may just build up. Left unmanaged for long enough, that buildup will eventually lead to the release of harmful toxins into the blood.
Now, while there are instances in which stress isn’t the end of the world — it can actually be a pretty strong force of good in some cases — it’s important to keep tabs on how stress is impacting you. As soon as it starts manifesting itself in the form of physical discomfort and soreness, that might mean it’s time to get things under control. Your best bet? Try finding ways to relax on the regular, so that you never give stress a chance to take over. Think about doing a daily meditation, or unwinding with a bath after a long day. Everybody’s go-to method of chilling out may be a little different – we, for example, feel perfectly carefree after shamelessly marathoning the Real Housewives for the umpteenth time. It’s all about finding what works for you to get stress and soreness in check. (That is, until your next workout.)