A spate of stories recently published on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and recent war veterans focused on computer “apps” for managing stress. If I hadn’t thought long and hard about stress and its relationship to pain I might have dismissed these pieces as lazy trend stories promoted by the makers of the software. Consider this telling quote from a 29-year-old reservist and medic, who has received counseling for her PTSD but also uses software on a tablet computer to help her log and manage stress. “I’m not going to lie,” the medic said. “When this came out we sort of wanted to slam it. But it surprised us and has been a phenomenal tool.” One of these apps allows vets to easily self-assess symptoms, gives instruction in muscle relaxation and breathing, and even displays a list of people to contact if things get overwhelming.
As someone who’s dug into the insidious relationship between stress and lower back pain, I wouldn’t go so far as to say the apps would “cure” PTSD, but I think it confirms the long-held belief that treating psychological issues can be a powerful tool in reducing pain – be it mental anguish or sciatica. After reading John Sarno’s books on pain management, and studies like this that draw a solid line between pet ownership and deaths by heart attack, I’m a firm believer that mood has a direct impact on how you physically feel. On a personal level, I can calm my back when it’s stiff by petting Puff the Cat, above (when he’s not acting crazy – he’s still a teenaged kitty!) – and I’ve had similar experiences with music. I thought about this connection the other day when I was walking around the block at work after writing on deadline for hours, clearing my head and working the kinks out of my back. A man – I’m pretty sure he was homeless – with a cane was leaning bent over on a fence, and I stopped and put my hand on his arm and asked him if he was OK. Surprised that I spoke to him, he said he was fine, and then, as I continued walking, he yelled out, “thank you for asking.” I felt glad that I did, and as that gratitude sunk in I felt my back release, as if this simple exchange did more for me than him.