Or does your stress cause your pain?
We’ve known for a long time that stress and pain are connected.
But how do you know which came first?
This quiz may give you an indication of which came first, and if stress is actually causing your pain.
1. Is your pain – especially migraine pain – worse on weekends?
2. Is your pain in your head, stomach, back, or jaw?
3. Do you suffer from insomnia, or sleeplessness?
4. Do you feel stressed, but nothing you do seems to be helping?
5. Is your doctor stumped by your pain?
If you answered “yes” to any of these five questions, the odds are good that your pain is caused by stress.
Here’s how it works –
Decoding the Quiz
Question 1: Migraines and more pain over the weekend.
You stay stressed all week, then relax over the weekend. This should be good for you except that when stress and pain are severe, that drop in stress triggers migraines and pain rather than eliminating it. Weekend migraines are a strong sign you’re too stressed during the week. Relaxing shouldn’t make you hurt worse.
Question 2: Head, stomach, back, or jaw pain.
Stress can cause you to grind your teeth and clench your jaw. Do either of those things long enough and you will experience jaw pain. Since stress also causes tense muscles, lower and upper back pain are common stress symptoms. And according to one study, people who were more stressed also experienced higher numbers of stomach aches than people who were less stressed.
Question 3: Insomnia and sleeplessness. While this may not seem related to pain specifically, it could be related to stress. One of the earliest symptoms of stress is struggling to get to sleep, or stay asleep. And when you can sleep, if you’re dealing with unusual or unpleasant dreams that disturb your sleep, well, that’s a sign of stress – that could be causing pain – too.
Question 4: Feeling stressed. If you find yourself saying that you’re stressed, but you’re managing it – you may not be managing it at all. Or if you are able to relax for a moment or two but find yourself stressed again quickly, that momentary relaxation isn’t enough for your body to stabilize. Whatever brave face you put out to the world, be honest with yourself. If you feel stressed – if you want to or not – your body is feeling the stress, too.
Question 5: Stumped doctors. There’s no injury. There’s no underlying health concern. There’s no disease. Yet you’re still in pain, no matter how many tests the doctors run. It’s time to pay closer attention to the stress and pain connection in your body.
The Stress and Pain Cycle
When you get stressed, your entire body responds. Your heart races and your breathing speeds up, sure, but those are only the symptoms you can immediately identify.
The truth is that the stress is affecting every system in your body. Hormones get released. Adrenaline starts pumping. Blood pressure increases.
Your body simply isn’t designed to stay under stress for extended periods of time. The longer you’re stressed, the greater the impact on your body.
There comes a time when the constant onslaught of pain starts taking a physical toll – and the result is pain.
The problem is that pain itself can be stressful. Pain can cause you to stop exercising, stop going out, and stop taking care of yourself physically and emotionally.
Because everything hurts. Except that the very things you’ve stopped doing because of pain are the very things that can help you reduce your stress levels – which will help reduce your pain.
Pain and stress are actually working together to keep you in pain and stressed.
What You Can Do About Pain and Stress
So you took the quiz and answered yes to more than one of the questions. All that does is give you something else to be stressed about!
But it doesn’t have to. There are steps you can take to reduce your stress, and therefore your pain.
1. Make an appointment with your doctor to talk about pain and stress. You should have already eliminated all the physical reasons for your pain by now. This time, go and talk to your doctor about the possibility of it being stress. Be honest and willing to listen. Your doctor will be able to make suggestions targeted specifically for you and your fitness level that can help you reduce stress.
2. If you’ve changed behaviors, change them back. Whatever the pain has made you stop doing, ease your way back into it. No, you probably shouldn’t go from your couch to a marathon, but going from your couch to walking around the block is a good start. Get back to doing the things you love.
3. Join a club or find an organization that needs volunteers. Schedule a time to meet up with friends for coffee or lunch. When someone asks how you are, be honest. Talk about the good things in your life and the bad. That’s what friends are for – and have a strong social network goes a long way to reducing stress.
4. Watch your diet. This doesn’t mean lose weight – it does mean make sure you’re eating a healthy diet. When you’re in pain and stressed, it’s easy to slack off on the nutrition. Make sure you’re getting plenty of lean proteins, brightly colored fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. Try to cut out the heavily processed stuff. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you start to feel better.
5. Make time for relaxation. If you’ve gotten into the pain and stress cycle, it means that relaxing isn’t coming naturally. So schedule it. Even relaxation time can go on your calendar. Try meditation, yoga, tai chi, or deep breathing. All of them have been shown to help reduce stress.
6. Get some rest. Everything is easier to handle when you’ve gotten a good night’s sleep, including pain and stress. And hopefully, the more sleep you get, the more you’ll reduce your pain and stress anyway.
We know that stress causes pain. But we also know that you don’t have to live with stress and pain.
Some of these suggestions may feel awkward or uncomfortable at first, but they’re worth it.
Because in the end, they feel so much better than living with pain caused by stress.