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Stress Relief Tips for Chronic Pain

Stress and chronic pain are often close cousins. When you experience physical discomfort, it’s natural to feel emotional stress too, but even this normal stress can accelerate pain, resulting in a cycle that makes things worse both mentally and physically.

Here’s some advice about the relationship between pain and stress, and how to interrupt their circular connection.

Stress and the Body

Stress affects every system of the body, the American Psychological Association reports, including respiratory, nervous, musculoskeletal, and gastrointestinal systems. Tensed muscles often serve as a protective measure against injury and pain, but this continual tension can lead to other problems in every system, including headaches, digestive complications, and joint discomfort.

On a chemical level, stress can also release hormones that have a damaging, compound effect on the mind long term. “[I]ndividuals who are under this constant state of stress experience a decrease or damage of cognitive function to the brain, lowered IQ, and, as a result of the chemical response, the pain becomes more pronounced,” Loma Linda University Health reports. More pain yields more stress, and more stress yields more pain. For those with a chronic pain disorder, the cycle may feel impossible to break.

Coping with Pain and Stress

If either stress or pain could be avoided altogether, this problematic cycle would be easy to fix. But stressors (including pain) are part of everyday life. Fortunately, there are several healthy outlets that can help manage both your mental health and your chronic pain.

  • Exercise moderately and regularly. It may seem counterintuitive to exercise when you’re in pain, but even a short, low-intensity walk, yoga, or moderate stretching can provide benefits. Research shows, for example, that walking can help reduce arthritic joint stiffness, while also delivering a mood boost.
  • Focus on your sleep patterns. When stress or pain causes your mind to race at night, you aren’t getting the sleep you need to restore and repair. Avoid electronics at least 30 minutes before bed to combat this mind-racing, and do your best to maintain a regular sleep schedule.
  • Explore an anti-inflammatory (and anti-stress) diet. Eating health-consciously with enjoyment can help both your body and your mind. Choose anti-inflammatory foods that bring delight to your palate and your pain levels.
  • Delegate responsibilities. Chronic stress, and therefore unnecessary pain, sometimes stem from taking on too much. Can you delegate tasks at work or home to trustworthy others?
  • Reach out and touch loved ones. “Studies have shown that touch can lower stress levels, lessen anxiety, and help a myriad of other physical disorders,” Dr. Martha Lee, founder and Clinical Sexologist of Eros Coaching, told Bustle. “There are noticeable changes in mood and even health when we’re exposed to simple human kindness in the form of touch.” Even when you can’t physically connect, a phone call may help you unload problems and feel more connected.
  • Practice other stress outlets. Going for a drive, listening to music, reading a favorite book, journaling, playing with a pet, or experimenting with art are all ways to manage stress, and alleviate pain at the same time.

At Alliance Spine and Pain Centers, we are dedicated to finding solutions that aid your chronic pain, your mental health, and the relationship between the two. Schedule an appointment with us online or call directly at 770-929-9033 to discuss what solutions may be best for you.