What to look out for when Managing Stressors
Stress impacts us all in different ways at some point or another in our lives. While daily stressors can appear, it is important to understand how stress can affect your daily life, and how to best cope with it.
For those who experience pain, migraines, or regular condition-related symptoms, it is also important to understand how stress can worsen the feeling and intensity of those symptoms, and potentially bring on new ones.
A few of the ways that stress can affect various conditions and symptoms felt include:
- Increased pain perception: Stress activates the body’s stress response system, leading to the release of stress hormones such as cortisol. These hormones can heighten the perception of pain and make it feel more intense.
- Muscle tension: Stress often causes muscle tension and can lead to the development or exacerbation of muscle-related pain. This can be particularly relevant for individuals with conditions such as tension headaches, fibromyalgia, or temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).
- Reduced pain tolerance: Stress can lower the body’s pain threshold, making individuals more sensitive to pain. What might typically be a mild discomfort could feel more severe when under stress.
- Altered pain processing: Chronic stress can impact the way the brain processes pain signals. It can affect areas of the brain involved in pain modulation, leading to increased pain sensitivity and decreased pain inhibition.
- Inflammation and immune system changes: Prolonged stress can contribute to systemic inflammation and disrupt the normal functioning of the immune system. Inflammation can further contribute to pain and increase the severity of chronic pain conditions.
- Sleep disturbances: Stress can cause sleep problems, such as insomnia or poor sleep quality. Lack of sleep or disrupted sleep patterns can exacerbate pain symptoms and make it more challenging for the body to heal and recover.
- Psychological factors: Chronic pain and stress often have a bidirectional relationship, with each influencing the other. Persistent pain can cause emotional distress, such as anxiety and depression, which, in turn, can increase stress levels. This cycle can intensify both pain and stress symptoms.
Managing stress is an essential aspect of chronic pain management and chronic condition management.. Techniques such as relaxation exercises, deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), yoga, and stress reduction strategies can help reduce the impact of stress on chronic symptoms. It’s important to work with healthcare professionals, such as pain specialists or psychologists, to develop an individualized plan for managing both stress and chronic pain effectively, in order to allow you to overcome your daily stressors and live the life you want.