The Link Between Stress and Pain
Stress can physically hurt. It can lead to headaches, muscle spasms or problems that are more serious.
I know from my personal experience that if I don’t listen to my physical warning signs that I can end up in the hospital.
Back in 2012 I was moving my office to a new location in Burlington. I was pushing myself harder than usual and kept telling myself that I could relax as soon as I finished the move.
By ignoring my body’s need for rest I caused the worst neck spasm of my life.
As I was entering the building, I turned my head and felt a shooting pain radiating from the right side of my neck down into my shoulder.
I knew that it hurt, but continued bringing load after load of office supplies and furniture down into my new studio. With each trip I could feel my neck screaming louder and louder until I had to lie down because the pain was so bad.
To my horror, I couldn’t get back up.
Each time I tried to sit up, my neck would spasm and take my breath away. My friends tried to help me sit up by supporting my neck and head while lifting me, but that also caused horrific pain. I couldn’t move.
I ended up having to call an ambulance to get me to the hospital. Being carried on a stretcher was embarrassing, but apparently the necessary wake up call that I needed to make some major changes in my life.
The doctors weren’t able to help me a whole lot. They put me in a neck brace, gave me some muscle relaxers and told me to go home and rest. I spent a week taking it easy and re-evaluating what this meant for me going forward.
This doesn’t mean I’ve had a perfect record ever since, but there’s been a huge improvement. I practice meditation, mindfulness exercises, sleep 8 hours each night, eat a healthy diet, receive massage at least once a month and I take my body’s stress warning signs a lot more seriously.
So where am I going with this?
Studies show that depression and anxiety can lower your pain threshold. A common symptom of mood and anxiety disorders is called somatization, where the body produces physical symptoms (pain, stiffness, digestive problems) as a manifestation of stress.
Pain can also cause mood and anxiety problems. Chronic pain can often lead to depression. This makes sense, because stress is harder to manage when your low back just won’t stop hurting.
Determining if your stress is causing pain or visa versa doesn’t really matter. The important take home is that dealing with one will help the other.
If you’re suffering from chronic pain, anxiety or depression please speak with a medical professional. They can determine if there’s a treatment that can help to address the pain you’re in. If you are feeling more anxious or depressed, seeing a talk therapist can help.
In addition to taking these steps, there’s a lot you can do to help address pain and stress. Physical activity, yoga, meditation and (of course) regular massage have been shown to be very beneficial. I have a membership program that I designed specifically for people who lead busy lives but want to be more calm.