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Can Stress Cause Pain in the Stomach?

A new psychological treatment protocol to resolve IBS.

Chronic pain in the stomach can be exhausting, scary, and an emotional ride for many patients. A diagnosis like IBS can make it especially hard to cope with symptoms. When doctors deem the reason for your chronic pain as functional rather than due to a virus or disease, fears about the future and symptoms that can affect other aspects of one's life often arise. Lack of reason for pain and how long stomach pain will persist can lead one down a daunting road of hyper-vigilance and sensitivity to symptoms- making the pain increase even more.

However, there is hope and proven curable treatment for people dealing with IBS symptoms! Once diagnoses like infections, disease, and structural damage have been ruled out, a functional diagnosis like IBS means that treatment protocols can shift from invasive to psychological.

Many research studies prove IBS is a mind-body disorder that worsens with stress and fear-avoidance behaviors. Keep reading below to learn more about how the mind-body connection can cause IBS symptoms and proven treatment to resolve IBS- for good!

The Mind-Body Connection in IBS

Gastrointestinal issues are scientifically proven to be connected to our emotional state. Whether we experience positive or negative emotions, the autonomic nervous system responds with changes made to the body. For example, certain social remarks like "butterflies in the stomach" describe when we feel anxious about something. Another example of this mind-body connection is when an emotionally upsetting situation occurs, we describe the feeling as "gut-wrenching." These instances show the relationship between emotional and physical sensations that form the mind-body connection.

The experience of emotions making physical appearances in the body is a normal process that is temporary and harmless. But what happens when these sensations become painful and chronic? Pain psychologist, Alan Gordon, describes this process as "the pain switch" in our brains gets stuck in the on position and causes [neuroplastic pain].

When a person has unresolved trauma, high stress, a big life changing event, repressed emotions, or perfectionist personality traits, it leads to a hyper-vigilant the nervous system. Once the nervous system becomes dysregulated from frequent or prolonged exposure to negative emotional and mental sensations, it becomes sensitive to the attached physical sensations. The hypervigilant mind then makes the mistake of determining regular occurances (mental, emotional, and/or physical) as a threat to the person's well-being, therefore inducing pain.

Fear-Avoidance Behaviors that Worsen IBS Symptoms

Fear-avoidance behaviors refer to avoiding certain behaviors believed to trigger the onset or increase of pain. It is common to develop avoidance behaviors when living with chronic symptoms because pain is scary and inconvenient- to say the least. However, when avoidance behaviors become an accustomed behavioral pattern, it reconfirms to the nervous system that normal sensations from the mind and body are unsafe. Fear beliefs of certain foods, movements, social activities, etc will drive the nervous system further into the fight, flight, or freeze mode and away from "rest and digest" mode.

Fear-avoidance behaviors can send a person with IBS and other chronic pain syndromes, down a slippery slope of more pain and fear. Safely confronting your fear of neuroplastic pain is essential to reclaiming safety and down-regulate the nervous system. On the other hand, confronting your fears during a flare-up can be destructive, as well. Keep reading below to learn how to break the Pain-Fear Cycle.

Proven Curable Treatment for IBS

As we've covered, stress and emotions play a big part in IBS symptoms and one's ability to cope. Increasing your window of tolerance to stressors, or becoming more resistant to sensations, happens first through understanding. Having medically unexplained chronic pain is a blessing in disguise. Since no disease, structural issues, and so on were found, you can fix your pain problem psychologically. To do this, you must reclaim safety in the mind and body by changing your relationship to the sensations you experience.

Pain Reprocessing Therapy (PRT) helps patients to retrain the brain and reinterpret the relationship to the sensations one has learned to be dangerous and painful. Those dealing with chronic pain syndromes that are medically unexplained or believed to be neuroplastic (like fibromyalgia, back pain, and pelvic pain), can resolve their pain problem through the process of:

1) neuroscience education,

2) gathering self-data that supports a neuroplastic or mind-body syndrome diagnosis,

3) using mindfulness techniques to practice observing sensations in the body without fear but curiosity,

4) addressing non-pain threats,

5) developing a new perception of sensations as neutral and normal.

To learn more about Pain Reprocessing Therapy and how it can help your pain problem, click here to discover more about our program. Be sure to schedule a complimentary consultation to share your pain story, get pain-science education made easy, expert tips that help you identify triggers, and a plan to help you begin reclaiming safety in your mind and body!

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