We know that pain can cause stress, but did you know that stress can cause pain and that prolonged stress can even cause disease?
It’s not a coincidence that when we are stressed, our throat tightens, our stomach churns and our palms get sweaty.
Our thoughts have a physical effect on our body and for many, it is the source of their pain.
Keep reading to learn about the stress-pain relationship and how to find relief from the physical pain that mental anguish may have caused.
The effects of your thoughts are not localized to the mind. As stress creeps up, many chemical changes begin to take place within the body.
Stress triggers a “fight or flight” response that all living beings are inherently born with. When an individual is confronted with a situation that could be perceived as a threat, they must decide to either stay and fight or flee the scene.
This fight or flight response prepares the body for a physical fight by releasing hormones that heighten their senses, physical strength, and stamina.
The hormones released during stress are cortisol, adrenaline, norepinephrine, and somatotropin (growth hormone).
How the Hormones Affect the Body
As you may have guessed, having an influx of hormones frequently secreted throughout the body can cause imbalances that result in damage. But what exactly happens to the body when hormones are not regulated, and how does it cause pain?
When cortisol is released, we have an increase in blood sugar, blood pressure, and heart rate, and our digestion is inhibited. Cortisol also increases our pain sensitivity, and since our brain thinks we are in trouble, our immune system kicks, which results in inflammation.
When adrenaline is released, we have an increase in heart rate, respiration, perspiration, blood sugar, and sympathetic nervous system (SNS) function. When the SNS is over-activated, it overrides our pain responses. This can be dangerous because you are no longer in tune with what activities are harming your body until the adrenaline wears off.
An example would be exercising beyond your body’s capability because your pain receptors were not able to send signals to your brain saying that your muscles have reached their limit.
When norepinephrine is released, your blood vessels narrow, blood pressure and perspiration increase, and your heart rate becomes rapid. Additionally, you may experience headaches, hyperventilation, muscle pain, go pale, feel cold and jittery, and become increasingly nervous.
Somatotropin is different from other stress hormones because the effects are not always immediately noticeable. However, the increased secretion of this growth hormone can cause severe damage over time. Long-term effects include diabetes, edema, heart disease, osteoarthritis, goiter, joint and muscle weakness, chronic pain, limited mobility, and much more.
The most notorious effect of excess growth hormone secretion is an overgrowth of the bones in the hands, face, feet, and internal organs.
Prolonged exposure to high hormone levels can be toxic. After all, hormones are chemicals, and all chemicals are poisonous in high doses.
The results of this prolonged exposure can include tissue and muscle damage, organ damage or failure, disease, and brain cell death.
The more short-term physical effects of stress hormone release can be seen primarily in the muscles. Stress-induced muscle tension is common, and often the reason some individuals have chronic back, neck, or head pain, but can’t seem to get a diagnosis of the cause.
How to Relieve Stress Naturally
Hearing how stress affects the body can leave you stressing about your stress levels. However, with a calm, collected, and proactive approach, you can substantially decrease stress and relieve any associated pain extraordinarily quickly.
Change Your Lifestyle
Exercise- Physical activity triggers the release of endorphins (happy hormones), which send signals to the brain, letting it know that you are no longer facing a threat and that your stress hormones can take a break.
Eat Healthily- When your body does not receive the proper nutrients it needs to function, it goes back into fight or flight mode. Contrarily, eating a well-balanced diet regulates your emotions and lets your survival response hibernate until needed.
Change Your Mental Habits
Practice positivity- When we practice positivity, we reframe challenges as an opportunity for growth which improves our mood and increases the release of endorphins.
Practice setting boundaries- Setting boundaries can decrease stress because we are establishing our expectations, preventing excessive demand, improving self-respect, and building the stepping stones needed to combat irrational fears.
Use the Tools Available to You
Aromatherapy- All aromas (both good and bad) directly impact our limbic system, which is partially responsible for how we process emotions and stress. You can use the power that aromas have on the limbic system to improve your mood and decrease stress. Scented candles, essential oils, and incense are all great aromatherapy sources.
Marijuana- Cannabis promotes homeostasis within the body, which means that consuming the plant keeps our physical and psychological health in balance. Certain strains like Girl Scout Cookies, Northern Lights, and the Blue Razz Strain, are particularly good at lowering stress levels.
Nature- Spending time in nature does not only improve your mood because it’s beautiful to see; it also reduces stress by promoting endorphin secretion. Exposure to the sun, foliage, fresh air, and aromatic plants all trigger the release of those happy chemicals we need to ward off stress.