What is stress?
Stress occurs when we perceive an event as negative or fearful, causing the body to produce certain hormones and activate its defense system. The nervous system acts as if the body is prepared to fight, and uses the motor system to escape. The endocrine system produces the fight-or-flight response. The immune system produces an inflammatory response to fight wounds and infection. It is a chain reaction; your whole body is affected by stress, not just the nervous system.
Stress-related pain is prominent in the chronic pain community. When you are under stress, your muscles tense up to protect yourself. Your body becomes rigid and only a state of relaxation can calm those muscles. For those of us that are under high stress situations very often, the stress response threatens the body physically and mentally. There are so many stresses to consider like workplace stress, surgery, infection, and traumatic events.
Chronic stress can lead to chronic pain. And, having pain all of the time acts as a stressor. Stress affects our overall health, functional abilities, and sense of well-being. It often causes muscular pain. The muscles may never relax. If they are constantly tense, this can trigger pain in several areas of the body, or exacerbate existing pain. As a matter of fact, stress not only leads to muscular pain, but can also manifest as abdominal pain, and pelvic pain. The emotional toll the results from continual stress can leave us depressed, worried, and sleepless too. Some common examples of tension-related pain include: tension headaches; migraines caused by tension in shoulders, neck, and head; and low back pain. All are quite common, but luckily there is a way to ease these ailments.
Here are some quick tips for reducing stress and pain:
- Exercise – releases endorphins. Yoga and Tai Chi are good forms of exercise along with traditional methods like walking or going to the gym.
- Sleep – six to eight hours are important.
- Modify the routine that’s not working for you – make a small change and do it consistently.
- Relax – do something you like to do a couple of times a week. Call a friend, walk the dog, listen to music, for example.
- Get support – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be very helpful for managing stress. It changes our perception of stress and pain.
If your life is continually stressful and pain plagues you, reach out for help before your health deteriorates. Do not wait to see if the pain will go away in 6 months, or 8 months. Try some of the tips mentioned earlier. If your symptoms continue for 3-4 months, see your primary care doctor, pain specialist, or therapist
My radio show on “Stress and more Stress” features well-known stress expert Dr. Kathleen Hall. We talk about practical and useful strategies for stress-induced pain. One of the keys to managing stress is living mindfully and developing an awareness of our response to pain.
Remember, no one is immune to pain but anyone can overcome it.