The Effect of Stress on Chronic Pain

Stress is everywhere, and now is a permanent feature in competitive societies, to the point where it has become normalised. Everyone is expected to constantly be super- busy and at least occasionally stressed out.

“So what, aren’t we all? “ is a common, less than helpful sentiment we hear when we mention our stress.

We possess an autonomic nervous system that is not fully under our control. When we are out of danger, safe and relaxed, we are in parasympathetic mode which is appropriate for re-charging our bodies after a day’s work, physically or mentally.

This nourishes our body and aids digestion, socialization, immune function, and reproduction, making sure that our bodies are not prematurely worn down by the demands of everyday life.

In times of danger, threat, or confrontation on the other hand, we are in sympathetic mode that prepares us for either doing battle…. or running away. Issues like digestion and ‘non-essential’ functions are downgraded for the time being, and we become ‘wired, hypervigilant, jittery, with a rapid heartbeat and breathing rate ready to act swiftly or to run away fast.

Everything else in the body is put on hold until we can again find a safe place and are not in a state of anxiety or stress.

In fact, stress negatively effects every chronic disease.

Prolonged time in the sympathetic zone is known to be harmful to our health. High circulating levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline take their toll on our bodies and this is particularly true in chronic pain and other chronic diseases.

Therefore exercise, especially while in nature, meditation, adequate sleep, and activities like yoga, creative and other pursuits are important to help us get back into the relaxation mode.

But here’s the take-home message…

We have this long tradition of trying to fight chronic diseases which does not really make a good deal of sense because fighting constantly drives us into sympathetic mode which is not an internal environment that can promote recovery.

That is why I am not supportive of fighting chronic pain.

Rather than fighting pain, we should first try and understand what pain is, and then learn to outwit or outsmart it.

Photo Credit Stillness InMotion on Unsplash