Stress and Its Affect on Physical Pain
Emotional pain can be more excruciating than physical pain. Having been going through a very difficult time, I have realized that the pain in my body is a welcome change to the one in my heart and mind. But what kind of toll can the stress of emotional upset take on the body?
When you are stressed out or very upset, the body goes into “fight or flight” mode, pumping adrenaline, cortisol and increased blood to the muscles in expectation of what the mind perceives as danger. This is a temporary response, but if the stress is ongoing, the process continues to repeat itself over and over. The result of this constant “fight or flight” is an imbalance in the nervous system. This imbalance can lead to:
- Muscle tension
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Respiratory problems
- Lowered immune system
- Increased pain in pre-existing condition
- Hormonal imbalances
- Decreased liver function
- Weight loss/gain
- And more…
So, for someone in chronic pain with a true biological illness, this means that already painful conditions can become worse.
There are numerous techniques for reducing stress, such as meditation (which I do not do well), medication, hypnosis, therapy, etc. There are thousands of websites dedicated to stress reduction, but what happens when real life trumps the self-help websites? When the stress is greater than the ability to cope? What happens when true emotional pain cannot be avoided?
Most of the time, if you are going through a stressful time in life, you have no choice but to fight through it. Stress is unavoidable and when it becomes too great, the only thing that can be done is to grit your teeth and push your way though. The most important thing is to stay as active and healthy as possible and to try and maintain some sense of “normalcy.” For me that includes my physical therapy and as many walks as my body can handle. By staying active you can try to burn off all that excess adrenaline that continues coursing through your body.
Living with physical illness, I understand that stress levels are already high, what with chronic pain, doctor visits, medication issues and insurance companies that are trying to give us heart attacks with every EOB, denial and appeal request. I understand that our bodies are already “under attack” on a daily basis. So, for anyone dealing with additional emotional stress on top of living with chronic pain, I feel for you. We are all fighters, that’s why we are here reading, writing and supporting each other, so keep the boxing gloves on and square your shoulders…we will eventually come out stronger and braver (I hope!).
Photo courtesy of Amy McTigue via Compfight
My name is Tracy and I am a licensed social worker. I was working as a Social Worker, when an emergency spinal surgery 2 years ago changed my life and my career. I live with chronic pain and, as a result, I have taken my social work and writing skills, and made them into this blog. This blog is a humorous, informative, no-holds barred honest look at life with chronic pain, depression and disability.”
Like this author?
Catch up on other posts by
Tracy Rydzy, MSW, LSW
(or subscribe to their
This post currently has
You can read the comments or leave your own thoughts.
Last reviewed: 7 Jul 2013