What came first, the pain or the stress? Whether your stress is causing pain or your pain is causing stress, this dangerous duo can get tangled in a vicious cycle that ultimately leads to chronic dis-ease in the body.
Pain and stress are both adaptive behaviors. It’s your body’s unique way of recognizing and adapting to harmful stimuli. How else would you know when to remove your hand from a flame or hit the brakes to avoid a car accident? Adaptive behaviors have kept humans alive for millennia!
However, when excessive pain and stress work in tandem, the combination can be truly toxic.
The Stress-Pain Connection
What is stress?
Stress is your body’s reaction to threatening situations. Whether they’re real or perceived, everyone has varying degrees of coping with their stressors. Once triggered, the body has a ‘fight or flight’ stress response to the potential danger that enables you to protect yourself.
What is pain?
Pain typically results from tissue damage. It is an unpleasant feeling and emotion that warns us to take action to prevent further tissue damage. People experience and describe pain differently, which makes it difficult to diagnose.
- Acute pain is generally intense and short-lived. Treating the underlying cause/injury typically heals the pain.
- Chronic pain is longer lasting. Regardless of the severity or whether the pain is continuous or intermittent, it can be difficult to resolve.
How are they connected?
Both stress and pain are part of the body’s defense mechanism and have different ways of triggering the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. This response includes:
- Rapid heartbeat and breathing
- Slowed digestion
- Blood flow reduced to the surface areas of the body
- Blood flow increased to the muscles, brain, legs, and arms
- Pupil dilation
- Muscle tension
As you can imagine, experiencing the symptoms of this ‘fight or flight’ response for prolonged periods of time can have devastating effects on the body. Being in a constant state of ‘survival mode’ suppresses the immune system and slows or halts normal bodily functions.
According to Jennifer Schneider, MD, PhD, a chronic-pain specialist and author of the book Living With Chronic Pain: "Lots of studies support the conclusion that what happens in the brain — depression, anxiety, being stressed out — can increase pain. At the same time, if you have more pain, you may be more stressed. Each makes the other worse, so if you decrease pain, you'll likely also decrease stress and anxiety."
Physical pain treatments range depending on the condition. They include:
- Heat and Cold therapies
Regardless of the underlying condition, managing stress leads to better coping and, in turn, makes pain more tolerable. But studies show that overcoming stress can also physically reduce pain. Part of getting the pain relief you seek is learning how to better manage stress.
Here are some stress-reducing techniques that you can try!
- Get active. Make exercise a priority, whether it's a 30-minute walk or going to the gym. Consult with a doctor first if you're concerned about how exercise may impact your pain.
- Get more restful sleep. Proper sleep can also help you cope with stress and healing.
- Find your balance. Examine your daily routine and modify it for better stress control. Learn to manage your time more effectively and make time for hobbies, interests, and relaxation.
- Chill out. Learn and practice relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and yoga can help you to relax and decrease stress levels. Once learned, these techniques and tools can be used throughout the day as needed.
- Seek support. Spend time with those you enjoy for social support. Seek out an evaluation from a mental health professional, like a psychologist or social worker, who can help you manage your stress.
Stress and pain are a part of life, but it’s how you deal with them that can influence your overall health. Curious how the doctors at the South Orange Chiropractic Center can help you manage your pain and stress? Contact us today to set up an appointment!