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Stress and Chronic Pain: The Mind-Body Connection

Recently, there was a story in the news about a woman who experienced inexplicable, crippling back pain for the better part of 3 years. The pain became so excruciating that she was unable to leave her bed on most days, or even complete simple tasks. She visited numerous doctors, chiropractors, and naturopaths, but none of them could diagnose the problem or provide a long-term solution. This medical mystery continued to wreak havoc on this poor woman’s livelihood.

It wasn’t until the woman went to a therapist who diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) that answers started to come. Her pain had no medical explanation, but was a reaction to a previous trauma that the woman had never completely dealt with it. She spent over 6 months journaling about her feelings, changing her thinking, and working with the therapist. She then began to walk again, go outside, and visit with friends. After a year, her chronic pain was entirely gone.

The mind-body connection is so incredible and mysterious that not even the top medical doctors or scientists completely understand it. The stress-related pain that we feel is real, but exists as a result of unresolved issues. Healing from our traumas is the only solution. Here’s what to know.

Understanding Chronic Pain and Its Relation to Stress

Our bodies use pain and stress to tell us that something is wrong. Most bodies are able to adapt to an environment over time, but those with stress-induced chronic pain cannot. For example, we may have a sore neck from writing too many papers, but with some stretches and rest, our neck feels better. Those with chronic pain have a maladaptive response to stress and pain. They cannot adjust their pain or stress when a routine environment evolves.

The body is only meant to live in pain and stress for a short time. Both are supposed to warn us about an impending problem or an overworked body. When the body deals with continuous fight or flight symptoms, it doesn’t know what to do. Thus, a part of our body or brain may react negatively. This creates chronic pain.

Those with chronic pain also develop phobias of any situation which might exacerbate their pain. This in turn tends to increase those fight or flight signals and add to the already overstressed body. The release of the stress hormone cortisol decreases the body’s ability to handle inflammation, which can also increase pain. Unless something is done, the pain-mind connection acts in a continuous, repetitive cycle.

Tips to Break the Pain-Stress Cycle

Here are some tips to break the cycle once and for all:

  • Educate Yourself on the Cycle and Talk to a Doctor – You want to make sure that your pain is related to stress and not to something else. That being said, all stress can increase pain so decreasing your stress will only help matters. Knowing how the body reacts to fear can empower you to have a realistic assessment on your symptoms.

  • Face Your Fear of Pain – Refusing to partake in activities because of your fear of symptoms will only make the pain and stress worse. Talk to your doctor about the activities that are safe for you to do. Do one activity at a time, such as taking a short walk or getting coffee with a friend. Once you are less afraid of your pain it will stop controlling you.

  • Maintain a Routine – Routines can help our bodies regulate themselves and relax more. When the body knows what’s coming next, it won’t overreact to perceived stressors.

  • Journal and Seek Help – It’s time to do some self-healing. What is really bothering you? What haven’t you dealt with? Consider journaling or speaking to a therapist to help get to the bottom of these questions.

  • Find Healthy Distractions – Talking to a friend, seeing a movie, or finishing a craft are all great ways to distract yourself from chronic pain. When we focus on the problem too intently, we can increase our symptoms and make everything worse. Healthy distractions will provide a respite from the continuous focus on what ails us.

Do you suffer from pain that is related to stress? If so, contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.

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