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Exploring if stress can contribute to aches and pains|man stressed out|person doing yoga|man holding knee in pain after running


Can Stress Contribute to Aches and Pains?

Stress is something that most people encounter at some point in their lives. Short-term stress can be helpful for making people feel more productive or to help them get out of a difficult or dangerous situation. Long-term stress, however, can have a negative impact on your physical and mental well-being. 1

man stressed out

What Causes Stress?

Stress occurs when individuals are worried about something. The human body does not know whether the threat is a lion about to eat them or their boss about to tell them that they did a bad job. So, the body will respond in the same way to a fear of a sternly-worded talking to as it would the presence of a predator—with dilated pupils, an elevated heart rate, and tense muscles.

However, the fight-or-flight response is designed to keep people alive, not to ensure that you do well in a performance review.

How the Body Responds to Stress

Short-term stress gets the adrenaline pumping and can help individuals cope in challenging situations. Long-term stress can cause anxiety, palpitations, nausea, stomach pain, headaches, insomnia, and many other issues. 2 Stress can cause inflammation, which is often associated with chronic pain. Indeed, many people who are suffering from chronic pain will notice that they suffer pain flare-ups when they are under severe stress. 3 That's not to say that pain is all in the mind but there are certainly links between mental and physical health.

person doing yoga

Coping with Stress

Reducing stress and finding new ways to cope with stress can be beneficial for those who suffer from chronic pain, as well as those who are going through challenging times in their lives.

Though it’s not possible to remove all stressors from life, it’s possible to use exercise, meditation, yoga, and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to improve coping behaviors for stress. It’s possible to reevaluate your lifestyles or relationships to make the environment you live in less stressful.

Many people also turn to aromatherapy to reduce stress. Lavender and chamomile, can help promote sleep and relaxation. That's a big step towards breaking the negative feedback loop associated with chronic stress.

Individuals who experience high levels of stress may also benefit from ylang-ylang, which has been found to be helpful for reducing cortisol levels and even helping with stress-related hypertension. 4

Listen to Your Body

Stress is normal, but that does not mean that it is good to be stressed. If you are experiencing persistent stress, then you should look for ways to reduce the challenges you are facing. That could be learning to say "no" to extra work, cutting out toxic friends, or cutting your hours at work if you are studying for a course at the same time. That may then also mean spending less money because you are making less, but it all adds up.

If you are stressed about your finances, ask for help. If you are stressed because of something negative that has happened in your life, find someone to talk to about those issues. You do not have to tackle challenges alone.

Sometimes, you will simply need to push through the stress and use short-term coping strategies to deal with the impact that stress has on your body. You should always have an exit strategy, however. If you are a shift worker, make plans for a better job, even if that means having to re-train. If you are in debt, prioritize paying it off, and reduce your expenditure in the short term to do so because it will leave you feeling so much happier in the long run.

man holding knee in pain after running

Final Thoughts

The relationship between stress and pain is complex. Chronic pain can leave people feeling stressed and that can exacerbate the pain. The good news is that the medical community is researching that link and the phenomenon of neuroplasticity. Studies show that people who understand the relationship between emotions and pain, and those who are able to remain active and independent, often cope better than those who feel anger or disempowerment as a result of their pain. 5

Stress is a real issue and something that causes a physiological reaction. It's important that individuals learn to take it seriously and society, in general, is more understanding towards people who are experiencing chronic stress. Depression and anxiety are areas that are dominating the mental health conversation at the moment, yet stress is just as common. It’s important to remind people that it's OK to say “no,” and it is OK to take a step back when you are struggling. Your mind and body will be better for it.

Photo credits: FSStock/, ESBProfessional/, fizkes/, PiyawatNandeenopparit/

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