Can pain cause stress?

To those of you who live with pain the answer may feel blindingly obvious.  Of course it can. Others may be less understanding.  I have met several people who have been told the pain is ‘all in their minds’. 

One of my clients, Louisa, has helped me understand more about the relationship between pain and stress. Louisa has fibromyalgia, a condition which can cause severe and long-lasting pain.

What does pain-related stress feel like?

Louisa says “I felt angry, I felt like I didn’t have control of my life, I felt lonely and I felt jealous of other people’s seemingly picture perfect lives; I know to some that all might seem a tad melodramatic but those negative thoughts consumed my life; they continuously whirred through my head and it felt overwhelming.

Around this time I was experiencing high levels of anxiety and often had panic attacks. Before I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia I also went through an episode of depression and at my lowest point I felt suicidal.

It is so easy for others to say, ‘it’s only pain’ but things don’t get much worse than what Louisa is describing. If you experience similar feelings, what can you do to help yourself?

How do you learn to ‘live with the pain’?

Here is Louisa’s answer:

What changed the game for me was to learn about mindfulness and meditation. It was like I had been living in a dark room for the past few years and all of a sudden a light had been switched on; I suddenly became aware of the mental torture that I was putting my mind and body through and of the rut that I somehow found myself in.

As my awareness grew, I discovered that a huge portion of my day was filled with negative thoughts, often bouncing between bitterly thinking of the past and then panicking about the future. I was always tense and on automatic pilot, going through the motions until I could climb into bed (which is quite odd really as going to bed didn’t bring much relief as I would often struggle to fall asleep or wake up throughout the night).

Can Stress Cause Pain?

Stress in itself may not be actually causing the pain but for Louisa: “Stress was a huge trigger to an increase in pain for me“.  Reducing the stress, in some circumstances, may also reduce the pain.

Final words from Louisa

Accepting your life may never be the same can be a hard thought to overcome but personally, I now realise my life can still be full of amazing things and can still be enjoyed to the full. I know my symptoms are likely to never truly disappear; I’m under no illusion there shall be harder days than others.

Rather than think negatively through those times however, I am going to instead focus my energy on listening to my body, giving myself the self-care I deserve and continue to be grateful for every single day. I am determined to live my life.

Thank you so much Louisa Tomlin.  You can read Louisa’s full blog here >>

If you would like advice on any aspect of how mindfulness could help you, don’t hesitate to contact me on sheila.bond@livingwellmindfulness.com or 07990 584078. To find out more about the course Louisa did with Living Well Mindfulness click here >>

Sheila Bond

Sheila is a Chartered Physiotherapist with many years’ experience in the NHS, mainly working with people in pain. She has always been interested in the connection between the body and the mind. She now offers both physiotherapy and mindfulness courses for stress, chronic pain and long-term health conditions such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Multiple-Sclerosis, Parkinsons, and Cancer.

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  • Great article. I suffer from M.E/fibromyalgia myself so understand Louisa’s story. Stress, for me, does definitely affect my pain levels. But as our minds don’t understand the difference between a real threat and a perceived one, our minds play such an important part in managing that pain. Pain is certainly not ‘all in the mind’ and anyone who suffers from chronic pain will know this. But being aware of our thoughts and incorporating meditation and mindfulness can certainly help to manage our symptoms.

    • Sheila Bond Sheila Bond says:

      Thank you Lindsay for your insight. We, as professionals who try to help, can learn so much by listening to those who live with the problem every day.

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