Can stress be your friend?
The difference here is the response that occurs in our bodies in relation to stress. When we experience a stress response, our blood vessels start to constrict which means they get smaller. This causes our blood pressure to increase and has been linked with the increase risk of cardiovascular disease in chronic stress. However, in people who believed that stress was helpful, this part of the stress response didn’t happen!
We need to re-frame the way that we think about stress. Instead of fearing your pounding heart and increased breathing rate, think of it as your body preparing you. Your heart rate increases, and your lung expand to bring more energy to your brain and muscles and your pupils dilate so you can focus on what is happening around you. You are ready and able to cope with whatever the situation is. Your body is adaptable and capable.
Below is a great TED talk by Kelly McGonigal which explores our bodies relationship with stress even further!
But how does this apply to persistent pain?
People who experience persistent pain are more likely to have depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, loss of occupation function and quality of life. `a results, many people who report persistent pain will often say that they feel they are always ‘on edge’ or ‘can’t relax’ as they feel they are always ‘waiting for something to happen’. They view stress as the enemy, causing not only an increase in stress hormones, but their bodies are often tense or ridged for prolonged periods. This means they don’t move freely, instead moving in a guarded or protective way. This in turn leads to fear of movement, which can then lead to feelings of stress related to moving and – feeling on edge! What a vicious cycle!
This is why it is so important to understand the things that cause stress in your life and finds ways to manage them. Remember that the brain can produce pain in response to thoughts, feelings and beliefs, just as our beliefs about stress influence the effect of stress on our bodies. Working to change the way you think about stress is a good start. Have a look at our earlier post on mindfulness for some other tools that can help. Get in touch if would like more information on how the Exercise Physiologists at Body Connect Exercise Physiology can help!
References1. Jamieson, J. P., Nock, M. K., & Mendes, W. B. (2012). Mind over matter: reappraising arousal improves cardiovascular and cognitive responses to stress. Journal of experimental psychology. General, 141(3), 417–422. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0025719 2. Greenberg, E. N. (2012). The consequences of chronic pain. Journal of pain & palliative care pharmacotherapy, 26(1), 64-67. 10.3109/15360288.2011.650359