The connection between the mind and body is perhaps most evident when individuals are under a lot of stress. However, it’s often hard to perceive which pains are caused by stress and which are caused by other factors. Highlighted below is an overview of the most common types of body pains caused by stress.
Muscle tension is often experienced when individuals start to get stressed out. Stress-related muscle tension can affect any muscle group in the body but is most common in the upper body such as the head, neck, and back.1
The reason muscles become tense when a person is stressed out is that excess stress results in the initiation of the “fight or flight” response which results in the release of stress hormones. These travel to different parts of the body to bring about physiological and psychological changes. Among these is muscle tension.
If the stress response is short in duration and does not occur very consistently, this muscle tension is not an issue. However, in the case of chronic stress or anxiety, the body can become stress-response hyperstimulated, causing muscles to remain tense.2
As long as stress levels are high, the group of muscles that is tense will likely remain tight until the stressor has faded away.
Neck and Back Pain
A common form of muscle tension that stems from excess stress levels is neck and back pain. The back interacts with the rest of the body’s core and is therefore nearly always activated. On the other hand, the neck moves and balances the head, meaning it is constantly in use. As individuals experience stress, these commonly-used muscles become especially tense.
Headaches commonly stem from muscle tension and are therefore another common product of excess stress. Often, this kind of pain is simply an extension of the tension in the neck. The muscles from the neck extend up into the head, and their contortion can create pressure that spread to other parts of the head as well.3
Stomach or Abdominal Pain
Though there is a wide range of causes for stomach aches, stress is a common culprit. The inner stomach muscles have a tendency to contract when individuals feel stress.4 Individuals may not feel this as pain at first, but if the stress is not remedied, it can increase.
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In addition, the stress hormones the body releases during the “fight or flight” response can produce acids that invade the stomach. Excess levels of these acids can result in pain. This disbalance in the stomach can create issues like diarrhea, constipation, or nausea.
Chest pain can be brought on by stress because of the way stress affects the heart. 5 Humans have pain receptors all around the body, and the chest is no exception. When individuals experience stress, the heart beats more rapidly, producing variations in blood pressure as well as more pronounced sensations in the areas around the heart.
This type of pain not really a psychosomatic event but rather a byproduct of another symptom of stress: clenching of the jaw. Many people clench their jaw when they feel stressed out, transferring significant amounts of pressure to the teeth. Even if the teeth are properly aligned, they are not necessarily equipped to handle this extra pressure. If they are misaligned, the pain symptoms will even worse.6
Relieving Stress-Induced Aches and Pains
Relaxation is a crucial step in dealing with stress. This is counterintuitive for many people. The instant reaction is to try to get rid of the stress by “fixing” the problem. However, because your muscles are involved, relaxing them may have more of an effect on the stress than immediately attempting to remedy the larger problem.
Even if you solve the problem, studies have shown that if your body is still in a tense state, your mind still believes it is stressed out. Practices like yoga, meditation, walks through nature, and topical or aromatic use of essential oils can be used to help promote relaxation at the moment that will pave the way to let you resolve the bigger problem in the future.
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