Updated: Aug 24
Treating stress-induced pain symptoms is stressful for many patients, to say the least. When stress and pain become chronic, the mind and body respond accordingly: increased negative thinking, rapid heart rate and breath rate, increased blood pressure and muscle tension, and a boost of adrenaline. The nervous system enters either fight/flight or freeze mode, and is lead further away from "rest and digest" mode. Sounds like a viscous cycle, right?
In normal circumstances, fight-flight or freeze mode is only temporary and lasts for just a few seconds. But for people with chronic pain, this up regulation in the nervous system can get stuck, lasting for several months and even years! When stress becomes chronic, normal responses to threats become heightened due to hypersensitivity. The mind can become confused and fatigued due to the broken danger alarm signal caused by unresolved trauma, stress, and lack of nervous system regulation. Since chronic pain, is a form of chronic stress, this community are at risk of other health factors such as weight gain, headaches and decreased sleep. Continue to read this blog to learn more about how chronic stress affects one's ability to
Chronic Stress and Weight Gain
Have you ever wondered why you experience an urge to eat ice cream from Salt and Straw or delicious animal-style fries from In-N-Out whenever you feel sad, angry, or worried about something? Even though we've been educated about the negative effects of sugar and fried foods on health, when we feel bad, we seem to want to eat bad foods anyway. Chronic stress causes increased levels of cortisol in the body that changes the appetite.
Chronic stress not only makes us feel hungrier, but also dictates where the comfort food will sit on your body. If you're wondering why you've gained inches in your midsection, well chronic stress and increased cortisol cause stubborn belly fat.
The worst part about all that "feel-good" food that keeps sticking to your abdominal area is that it causes inflammation and brain fog, making it harder to recover from chronic stress and pain.
A great way to deal with stress, reduce stubborn belly fat, and improve overall well-being is to move the body. If you have chronic pain, and have fear of certain movements, try reintroducing activity in a slow pace while using somatic tracking to ease feelings of anxiety. If you currently are rehabilitating an acute injury, you can exercise within your limitations like stretching, gentle movement, or short outdoor walks. Relaxation techniques to help reduce stress and increase resilience are meditation, calming music, journaling, and focused breathing.
If you'd like an example of how to begin practicing relaxation techniques like focused breathing, visit this link to follow along to a free breathwork practice I posted on Instagram.
Chronic Stress and Headaches
Emotional distress is one of the most common causes of cluster headaches and medically unexplained headaches. Although the chronic pain experience is real and an internal battle to fight with, it is possible to control emotional responses to pain to reduce symptoms.
Feeling overwhelmed by negative thoughts or circumstances can cause emotional distress and reaffirms to the nervous system that you are not safe. Fortunately, there are simple techniques to use to gain control and avoid flare-ups. Click here to download my free guide, "3 Steps to Break the Chronic Pain Cycle."
Reclaiming safety after experiencing emotional distress is possible with mindfulness techniques that strengthen the mind-body connection. Using tools like grounding, somatic tracking, and journaling can allow you to observe how certain thoughts and emotions show up physically in the body and allow you to focus less on the intensity of the sensation.
Chronic Stress and Decreased Sleep
As mentioned earlier in this blog, chronic stress causes an increase in cortisol in the body. As a stress hormone, cortisol regulates weight, blood pressure, mood, and sleep. When pain sensations are responded to with frustration or fear, this reaction causes increased stress and high cortisol levels. When this behaviour becomes a pattern, a person can become stuck in the Pain-Fear cycle, which not only makes the physical and emotional pain worse, but also can disturb the sleep cycle.
Decreasing your intake of caffeine, sugar, and processed foods can help improve mood and susceptibility to stress and pain. Try to incorporate self-care, time management, and mindful movement to help boost your ability to fight chronic stress and improve quality of sleep.