Anxiety And Agony

Manage stress levels to manage your pain.

by Marie Look

Stress and pain are an unwelcome but inseparable pair. When you’re in pain, it stresses you out. When you’re under stress, it can cause or further aggravate pain. And around and around the cycle goes. It makes sense then, that taking steps toward helping one also helps the other. But what can you do to solve them both? Let’s find out.

What Is Stress?

The first step toward minimizing pain by keeping your stress levels in check is understanding the science behind all of it. When presented with a stressful situation, your body’s nervous system automatically initiates your “fight or flight” response, which includes a release of adrenaline and other chemicals to keep us alert and help us avoid danger. In emergencies, that physical response can be helpful — even life-saving. But when sustained over a long period of time, stress leads to a condition called distress, which disrupts the body’s normal processes, causing a range of unhealthy symptoms.

Signs And Symptoms

Maybe you’re already familiar with how stress manifests itself in your life, but there may be symptoms you experience that you’re not aware are linked to stress.

According to the American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America” report (2010), these mental and emotional changes can, in turn, lead to over- or under-eating, substance abuse, angry outbursts, depression or the urge to withdraw from your friends and family. And physical symptoms include headaches; difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep; fatigue; indigestion or upset stomach; trouble concentrating; a racing pulse; diminished sex drive; excessive perspiration; pain in the chest, back, neck or jaw; and other reoccurring ailments.

Managing Stress to Manage Pain

While some connections between stress and pain require more research, others are more definitive. Here are a few actions you can easily take today to lower your stress levels and start reaping the benefits of a more balanced body and calmer state of mind:

Exercise. If you’re capable of incorporating physical activity into your life, it can be a powerful weapon in the battle against stress. Not only is it a welcome distraction, it’s also been shown to relieve tension and improve sleep, focus and concentration. And here’s the big one: When you exercise, your body produces endorphins — “feel-good” neurotransmitters that increase feelings of overall well-being and happiness.

Sleep. According to APA’s Stress in America report (2010), more than 40 percent of all adults say they lie awake at night because of stress. But consistently getting enough shuteye is crucial to maintaining well-functioning immune and endocrine systems, fighting fatigue and keeping your metabolism stable. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults require seven to nine hours of sleep per night, so do what you must to get those z’s.

Clean up your diet. Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet complete with antioxidants, vitamins and other nutrients is not only important for aiding your body in healing and boosting immunity, but many foods also have pain-alleviating properties. Do your research and discuss with your doctor the foods you can incorporate into your diet — as well as foods you should avoid — to ease your pain on a day-to-day basis.

Take a step today in the right direction by creating a stress reduction plan for yourself that incorporates some of these actions. And see your doctor so that he or she can discuss additional considerations and check for other potential stressors. You have more power than you think you do in managing the stress in your life, and your body will thank you for it.