Stress can come in many forms – what will be the results of your latest doctor exam, where will your next meal come from, will you get that big promotion, or will your retirement portfolio bounce back after taking a large loss?
The age old question of whether stress is mental or physical still rings true. If it’s just mental, can’t it be willed away? If it’s just physical, can’t it be worked out? The answer is that stress affects a person’s cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, and even muscular systems — meaning it’s both physical and mental.
We’ll cover the science of what stress is, how it affects the body, why it causes pain, and ways to properly manage that stress.
What is stress?
Stress is defined as the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change, according to the American Institute of Stress. This common ailment is often misdiagnosed and overlooked by patients who think there’s another reason for their constant headaches, lower back pain, and more.
How stress affects the body
While stress can affect a person’s mood and behavior, it can also affect the body in the following ways:
- – Headaches
- – Muscle pain or tension
- – Upset stomach or irritable bowel syndrome
- – Fatigue
- – Change in sex drive
- – Chest pain
Why stress causes pain
We all know the phrase “fight or flight,” but have you ever thought that’s why stress causes pain to the body? When a fight or flight reaction occurs, the body tells the adrenal glands to release adrenaline, cortisol, and other hormones, arming the body for a battle. In primitive years, the reaction made sense when there was imminent danger approaching, but nowadays, our stress comes more frequently and from less “dangerous” instances, such as work, multitasking, and being constantly on the go.
When the body releases the fight or flight response, muscles tense, causing additional pain for patients. Common muscle pain or tension locations are the neck, shoulders, face, jaw, lower back, and the abdominal. These tension locations can cause the following:
- – Lumbar or lower back pain
- – Occipital neuralgia, often mistaken for a migraine or headache
- – Abdominal cramps
- – Facet joint arthralgia
Ways to manage stress
While each of us is affected by stress differently, the ways to manage stress differ from person to person as well. The following are a few techniques to manage stress, according to the American Psychological Association:
- – Mediation
- – Support from family, friends, or a medical professional
- – Smiling or laughing
- – Exercise
- – Taking a break from the cause of the stress
While it seems easier said than done, a positive outlook on life helps to diminish the perception of stress-induced pain in the body. By understanding how stress affects the body and ways to properly manage it, patients will be well-equipped with the proper tools to alleviate the physical pain that comes from stress.