The everyday variety of pain we feel in the body is the natural repair process that we know as inflammation. When that normally helpful process falls out of balance, it can lead to an accumulation of chemicals and fluids. Those aches or tweaks are an accumulation of inflammation that finally reaches our awareness.
Modern living provides endless sources of stress that our body’s defenses are constantly managing for us. It’s not just the stress of a strain or a sprain that mounts the inflammation repair process. This reparative defense system is also called upon to manage a wide variety of stresses that are not always mechanical in nature. Our emotional stress levels can also change our body chemistry in a way that sets us up for inflammation — and, therefore, pain.
Two key chemicals bounce around when we’re stressed: serotonin and dopamine. These two chemicals interact when we need them, and yet can inadvertently cause pain. The body releases serotonin, the feel-good chemical, to keep a lid on destructive stress hormones. Unfortunately, a high and sustained concentration of serotonin will deplete dopamine, a key player in mood regulation. If stress goes unchecked, this vicious cycle eventually depletes these chemicals designed to address pain and stress. If you feel like you’re doing everything right, but can’t seem to kick your everyday pain, you may be falling victim to this brain chemistry mash-up.
Follow these four tips to control stress-related triggers of pain:
- Consider your fuel: The chemistry of stress can be influenced by nutrients. We know that nutrients can affect our emotions. For example, Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to produce positive outcomes in treating postpartum depression. Evidence also shows that magnesium (found in foods such as whole grains and dark, leafy green) can help with stress and anxiety. Some herbal remedies can influence brain chemistry, as well. It’s important to consult with someone properly trained in these areas to hone in on what is best for your situation.
- Consider your body positioning: A Harvard School of Business study recently found confidence to be strongly associated with body posture. The study found measurable change from adopting specific “power poses” (standing with feet apart, hands on hips, and chin tilted upward) for a certain amount of time each day. Coincidentally, many of these recommended poses are also less mechanically stressful on the body.
- Consider more movement: Investing time in moving the body each day results in a real chemical payoff. Not only does movement help to hydraulically power the elimination of potentially pain-causing fluids and molecules, but the sustained increased cardiovascular time will flood your brain and body with oxygen and help re-set your serotonin and dopamine balance. Start with walking and build gradually. Be careful not to take your exercise in a way that causes more stress and anxiety; be kind to yourself.
- Don’t forget to consider psychotherapy: Gaining perspective can often be difficult without some outside help. Find someone who can help you weigh what to focus on and hold you accountable for doing what both your mind and body need to de-stress.