How to Reduce Chronic Symptoms When You’re Stuck in a Stressful Situation

A couple of weeks ago, I made a post on Instagram about the bodily stress and symptoms that can result when you find yourself caught in an intense inner conflict like this one:

You’re working in a stressful and/or abusive environment and you feel that it would be unsafe to leave because you need the job to survive. One part of you desperately wants to stand up for yourself and set some firm boundaries, while another part of you is desperately afraid of losing the job and wants you to do whatever you need to do to keep the job.

I got a bunch of messages about this post from folks who identified with the scenario and wondered how they could possibly reduce their chronic symptoms while stuck at a stressful job.

It’s a great question! This is truly a hard situation. And unfortunately, a common one in the society we live in. To anyone who finds themselves in this kind of situation, I send my empathy.

I don’t have concrete answers and we are each so different and are navigating different circumstances. So what I will share is just a little piece of my own personal experience. And if this dilemma is one you relate to, you can see if there’s anything about my story that gives you an idea that might be useful to you.

What I have found is true for me is this:

My body reacts to stress, and stress is an unavoidable part of life. But my body reacts with a very different level of intensity if it truly feels that I am on its side.

If my body senses that I would rather make my boss like me than take care of my body, then my body feels it cannot trust me and it freaks out at me.

If my body feels I’m blaming it for the way it’s responding to external stresses at work, then my body feels betrayed by me and it freaks out at me.

If my body feels that my priority is anything other than loving and caring for it and standing up for it the best I can through stressful times — like I would for my own child if I had one — then my body feels unsafe with me and it freaks out at me.

But if my body feels that I am truly and fiercely on its side like a loving parent, then my body can weather the stresses of life much better.

Kind of like if my body was a child who was getting bullied by a teacher at school: I, as the parent, might not be able to remove the teacher or stop the teacher from bullying.

But if the child knows that I am standing beside them, acknowledging the injustice and standing up for them at home by telling them how loveable they are and undeserving of abuse, then the child will be able to weather the stress a lot better than if I said something like “well, what are you doing to make the teacher angry?”

Does that make sense? If anything here is helpful, use it — and if it doesn’t feel helpful or relevant, then toss it aside!

Whatever your circumstance or experience, I do believe this to be true: Our bodies are happier when we treat them with kindness, care and deep respect.

➡️ If you need support with chronic pain and anxiety, take my FREE QUIZ called “Why the *bleep* am I still in pain?!” so I can help you get some clarity.


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Anna Holtzman
Anna Holtzman
Anna Holtzman is a chronic pain recovery therapist and coach based in New York City.
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