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How stress affects your experience of pain.

ALL pain is in your head so it stands to reason that how our head feels will affect how our body feels?

Pain is your body’s way of telling you something’s wrong, but how we experience pain can

vary enormously. It’s a nervous system response that your brain processes, so your

emotions can affect your pain. It means pain really is all in your head, but that doesn’t make

it any less real.

Here’s how stress affects your pain and what you can do to relieve it..

How we experience pain

Pain is essentially an electrical impulse that goes into your nervous system and travels to your brain which then processes it into different feelings. It means the way YOU experience pain is unique to YOUR nervous system.

Most people’s pain thresholds are reasonably consistent. If you give people a series of

electric shocks that increase in intensity, the point where it starts to feel painful will be the

same for most people. However, pain limits can vary massively. That’s the point at which

pain becomes intolerable so you can’t take any more.

There are many reasons for this, including your current stress levels.

How stress affects your pain

The amount of pain you can stand changes depending on how stressed you are. Your

nervous system processes your stress along with your physical sensations. Stress means

your nervous system is more sensitive and has a heightened experience of pain. It can make your body more likely to overreact to sensations that wouldn’t be painful or threatening in other circumstances.

Cortisol is part of your fight-or-flight stress response; you have more of it when you’re

stressed. It’s supposed to help you in the short term, but if you experience chronic stress, it

can heighten your pain sensitivity and have physical effects, such as higher blood pressure..

Knowledge is power

Understanding the cause of your pain can help reduce its intensity. Learning how your body

reacts to and copes with pain can also help. For example, if you go into your child’s room at

night and step on a Lego brick or a plug, it can be painful but doesn’t cause any damage. It

hurts because your feet are sensitive, and you might also be trying to hold in a shout as you

don’t want to wake a sleeping child!

Equally, labour pains hurt, but you know what they’re for. You’ve had classes to help you

prepare and have tools to help you manage the pain. You also know that it won’t last forever.

Learning how you can manage your pain and how long it will take to recover can help to

lessen it.

Your previous experiences of pain

Your nervous system holds onto your previous experiences and uses them to decide how to

react. If you’ve had a bad experience of pain in the past, even a slight twinge can be

terrifying. Sciatica can be intensely painful, so any hint of pain can make you dread that its

returned, meaning you feel pain more strongly. Seeing the way your parents dealt with pain can also impact how you feel it as an adult as it shapes our responses.

Our nervous system holds on to our previous experiences to help us decide how to react

Those feelings can affect how you act in response to pain. You might avoid physical

movement because you don’t want to make things worse, but if you understand what’s

causing your pain, you can move around safely. When we treat people, we want to avoid a

negative experience of pain if we can.

Get professional advice

If you’re in pain and want to understand what’s causing it and how to improve it, come and

see us. We often see patients who are in a lot of pain at their first treatment session, but it’s

dropped when they come back to us. Your brain often fills the gap in your knowledge by

catastrophising. Assuming the worst makes the pain more intense.

We can tell you what you’re dealing with and give you strategies to manage your pain. We

can help you understand what movement is safe and what to avoid for now. We use a range

of techniques, such as massage and reflexology.

People sometimes hold pain emotionally, and it can turn up elsewhere in their body, causing

migraines or stomach problems. We offer a technique called gentle release, which can help.


How you experience pain can change depending on your past experiences and how

stressed you are. We can help you understand what you’re dealing with and develop

strategies to help relieve your pain..


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