Stress and the Art of Clenching

My blood pressure is PERFECT.  120/80.  What’s more…it’s consistent.  It hasn’t changed in over a year (I check it periodically as well as at the doctor).  That’s not what my headaches are about…that is such a relief.  It’s not that I mind taking the medication because the alternative is inconceivable (I watched the Princess Bride this weekend with the boys…love that movie!)  It’s not even that I mind getting old because, let’s face it, we all do and the alternative sucks.

It’s that hypertension and high blood pressure are silent killers and they scare the shit out of me.  The damage they do to your body without you even knowing it are immense so here’s my PSA for the day…if you’re on meds for HBP, take your medication, religiously…your family needs you.

Anyway, turns out my headaches are called muscle contraction headaches.  They can be caused by a lot of different things, one of which is…wait for it…jaw clenching.  Sigh.  I’m screwed.

I am a chronic clencher.  I do it in my sleep and have been fitted with a mouth thingy.  Problem is, said mouth thingy was meant to stop people from grinding and, although the dentist swore it would work, mine only serves to make me clench against the thing.  That may be good for my teeth, but my jaw is still in trouble.

I also do it during the day.  I’m not even aware of it most of the time and only open my mouth when I start to feel my teeth hurt.  I’ll start talking or eating and realize that my molars are sore (seriously…I am not even making this shit up) and that’s when I know I’ve been clenching. 

Over the years I developed TMJ and even locked up my jaw once.  It has created chronic neck pain, shoulder pain and, of course, headaches.  I’ve seen specialists and even had an MRI once to try and diagnose the pain.  Ever single time it comes down to stress and clenching.

The funny thing is, my body has always had a strange way of processing my stress.  When I was younger, I developed alopecia areata that was linked to stress.  A stressful event would occur (like the time my sister freaked out on PCP and almost killed my father) and I would swoop in to the rescue, deal with the problem, stuff down the feelings and then about 3 months later, my hair would fall out.  I would go to the dermatologist, get some cortisone shots and 3 weeks later, my hair was back.  Problem solved…lather, rinse, repeat.

As I got older, the processing of said stress manifested itself in my jaw and a wine bottle.  Guess I know now why my clenching has returned with such a vengeance.  Time to hit the yoga mat and beef up the meditation.

Anyway, for now I have a prescription for Ultram.  I took one last night, my headache went away and I went to sleep.  Stuff put me right out.  Today I can feel the remnants of yesterday’s headache and the threat of a new one but I’m trying to be conscious of whether or not I’m clenching.  It’s HARD.

Stress is a motherfucker.


69 thoughts on “Stress and the Art of Clenching

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