Stress and chronic pain affect millions of people regardless of gender or age. In the case of chronic pain, it’s about 50 million in the United States and may grow each year. Mental health and physical pain have an intricate, often mysterious relationship but one worth exploring if we’re going to find ways to treat either or both. One option may be ketamine.
What is Stress?
“Stress is a normal human reaction that happens to everyone. In fact, the human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. When you experience changes or challenges (stressors), your body produces physical and mental responses. That’s stress.”
Stress responses allow your body to adapt to new settings. It can be helpful, keeping you alert, driven, and prepared to evade danger. But stress becomes problematic when stressors linger without stopping or allowing moments of relaxation.
What is Chronic Pain?
Pain is a claxon in the nervous system that indicates something wrong. Pain could be pronounced or dull and experienced in one area of your body or everywhere. Acute pain is localized, frequently short-term, and often signals an injury or problem that needs to be taken care of. But chronic pain is different – lasting for weeks, months, or perhaps years. And the original cause is often mysterious, forgotten, or long-since resolved or healed.
Know the Symptoms
Symptoms of stress may include:
- Unexplained aches and pains.
- You have chest pain or feel that your heartbeat is speeding.
- You’re exhausted or have trouble sleeping.
- Headaches, dizziness, or trembling.
- You may have elevated blood pressure.
- You have muscle tension or clench your jaw.
- Stomach or gastrointestinal problems.
- Problems with intimacy and personal relationships.
- Weak immune system.
- You’re anxious or irritable.
- Panic attacks.
Chronic pain is known by many symptoms, including joint pain, muscle aches, pain that you could describe as burning, tiredness, trouble sleeping, lack of stamina and flexibility because you don’t do as much as before, and mood problems, like anxiety.
In one study, nearly 61 percent of the participants who reported chronic pain also complained of depression, with most of them calling their symptoms severe.
Stress & Chronic Pain
Stress and chronic pain share a complex relationship. Living with pain can be stressful and trigger mental health issues. Stanford Children’s Health estimates that one-third of adults who have arthritis also experience anxiety or depression.
Someone with chronic pain has the dual burden of it always being on their mind. It’s a constant reminder that the pain makes you feel like you can’t do some of the things you want to do or did in the past. People with arthritis, for instance, can struggle with everyday, simple tasks like bending, lugging groceries, or taking the stairs. As anyone with chronic pain knows, the struggle to manage the symptoms can extract a price on your emotions – making you feel angry, anxious, frustrated, or depressed.
And mental anguish like stress can worsen your chronic pain. Why? Because stress can make your muscles tense or have spasms, which drives pain even further. What’s worse is that stress boosts levels of the hormone cortisol, potentially leading to inflammation and pain over time.
But you can prevent stress by trying any of the following:
- Relaxation exercises.
- Taking care of yourself through proper nutrition, exercise, and getting the right amount of sleep.
- Maintain a positive attitude.
- Stay connected with family and loved ones.
- Find a hobby or ways to enjoy your time.
- Realize there are things beyond your control, and that’s okay.
- Say no to things that may cause stress.
Chronic pain can often be reduced with pain relievers, diet and lifestyle changes, and ketamine therapy to relieve pain symptoms.
Diagnosis & Treatment
“Stress is subjective — not measurable with tests. Only the person experiencing it can determine whether it’s present and how severe it feels. A healthcare provider may use questionnaires to understand your stress and how it affects your life.”
Your healthcare provider can assess chronic stress symptoms and recommend treatment for specific underlying conditions that may be causing or contributing to it. With chronic pain, a healthcare provider may use tests and diagnostic procedures to uncover the cause of symptoms – a previous illness, injury, or something else. In either case, diagnosis may also be performed by a mental health specialist.
Treatment for either condition may involve psychological or other counseling, lifestyle changes, medicine, or ketamine therapy.