Emotional stress can trigger a host of health-related problems, ranging from memory loss to impaired immunity; it definitely plays a role in pain. However, thanks to extensive research, scientists have a better understanding of how stress affects the body. The fact is stress is simply a pain trigger. Whether there will be health consequences after a stressful episode depends on your responses to the external event. These responses involve the immune system, the heart and blood vessels, and how certain glands secrete hormones that help regulate various functions in the body, such as brain function and nerve impulses. All of these responses interact and are profoundly influenced by one’s coping style and psychological state.

Review the Stress Observation Signs (SOS) on page 189, and determine the particular ways your body responds to life’s stressors. These reactions are well-documented symptoms that occur with the “fight-or-flight” response; the initial stress response that happens automatically when you feel threatened. When the mind perceives a threat, the pituitary gland at the base of the brain responds by stepping up its release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). The burst of ACTH is followed by a flood of stress hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline), and norepinephrine (noradrenaline) that pour into the body to help you respond in a hyperalert, quick manner.

When the stress has passed, epinephrine and norepinephrine subside and return to normal levels. But Cortisol continues to stay elevated, especially in those over age forty. And elevated cortisol over a period of time results in excess abdominal fat and pro-inflammatory markers.

In short, stress does not cause pain but, rather, your response to stress can increase your reaction to pain. By learning to recognize the physical and emotional signs and symptoms of stress and deal with these in a positive manner, you can block the negative effect before they cause you to have increased inflammation and pain or become ill.

25 Common Stress Observation Signs (SOS)

CHECK THE FOLLOWING symptoms that you experience with chronic stress:

  1.  Anger

  2.  Anxiety

  3.  Apathy

  4.  Asthma

  5.  Back pain

  6.  Chest pains or tightness

  7.  Depression

  8.  Headaches (including migraines and tension headaches)

  9.  Heart palpitations

10.  Hives

11.  IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)

12.  Insomnia

13.  Inability to relax at night

14.  Inability to concentrate

15.  Irregular menstrual periods

16.  Jaw pain

17.  Loss of sexual desire or function

18.  Mood swings

19.  Neck pain

20.  No energy

21.  Rapid pulse

22.  Rashes

23.  Short temper

24.  Short-term memory loss

25.  Weight loss or gain

Stress and Chronic Illness

A LARGE PROPORTION of all visits to doctors’ offices are for stress-related complaints. Along with pain, stress is linked to an increased risk of the following diseases:

•  Allergies, asthma, and hay fever

•  Back and neck pain

•  Cancer

•  Heart disease

•  High blood pressure

•  Migraine headaches

•  Peptic ulcer disease

•  Stroke

•  TMJ (temporomandibular joint) syndrome

•  Tension headaches

Accepting Your Pain

Your ultimate goal is to get the point where you can accept your pain, and then start making modifications to handle it in your life. The opposite of acceptance is denial, and this behavior will work against any pain rehabilitation efforts. It is vital to accept that issues such as anger, anxiety, and loss of self-esteem can affect your pain. An interesting study of patients with pain found that higher levels of acceptance were associated with less attention to the pain, greater commitment to daily activities and social affairs, higher motivation to complete activities, and greater confidence rating personal performance of daily activities.

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