Stress and Pain
Lots of things can cause pain, but studies show that people who have greater stress tend to have more problems with headaches, lower back pain, pain in the neck, shoulder, face, jaw, and joints. Why? It’s simple. Stress causes muscle tension, and when your muscles are constantly tense, they become tired and fatigued. This is what leads to pain. Your shoulders, neck, and back are particularly prone to stress-related pain because they hold you up and support your 10 pound head. Pain may start with bad habits like clenching your teeth or poor posture, but tension in neck and shoulder muscles makes the problem worse, often causing pain to radiate.
Pain on the side of the face that can radiate to the head or neck may indicate a jaw problem known as temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder. But it’s usually not the joint that’s the real problem. It’s the muscle tension from clenching your teeth while under stress.
The same kind of muscle tension also leads to tension headaches. And if you have frequent headaches, it puts you at higher risk for developing problems with depression and anxiety – in other words, more stress. So, the relationship between stress and pain is like a vicious cycle. Stress leads to pain and pain leads to more stress – and on and on it goes. If you have chronic problems with headaches, you might also consult your doctor to make sure nothing else is going on.
Your heart, lungs, and blood vessels make up your cardiovascular system, and it, too, can be affected by chronic stress. For one thing, the stress response makes your heart work overtime, putting it under intense strain – the kind of serious strain that over months and years can lead this vital organ to weaken and stop working properly. Stress is also associated with unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, drug and alcohol abuse, and poor eating habits, which also have harmful effects on your heart and lungs and can lead to clogged blood vessels. This increases your risk of serious conditions such as a heart attack, lung or liver disease, or stroke.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) IBS is a digestive system disorder that causes stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, or gas, and abdominal cramps. For some people, IBS is a minor condition; but for others, it’s chronic, painful, and embarrassing. While the exact cause of IBS is unknown, it’s clear that (once again) stress can make the symptoms worse. This occurs because the hormones released during the stress response (namely, cortisol and adrenaline) affect the nerve endings in your gut, causing all sorts of upheaval with your digestive system, such as increased mucous secretions, changes in the speed and strength of the contractions in your colon, and the experience of stomach pain.
Stress and Hair Loss
Excessive stress can even cause hair loss. Your hair might temporarily stop growing and fall out, but then grow back within several months. In more severe cases, hair follicles all over your body might die and treatment might be required to allow the hair to grow back.