My Story: Stress and Chronic Pain

Editor’s Note: Rosemary Lee is a writer who lives in Las Vegas and suffers from fibromyalgia. She writes for the National Pain Report. To see more of her work visit her blog (here).

Flight or fight.

It feels good.

Until your body gives out.

Scientists are finding out that exposure to chronic stress affects, and causes damage, to the hippocampus region of the brain. The researchers are also exploring the role of the hippocampus in regards to pain perception in people that have Fibromyalgia.

When your body perceives a threat the nervous system responds by sending hormones into the body.  These hormones put your body on alert. Muscles tighten, the heart beats faster, all your senses become sharper, blood pressure rises and you breathe a little faster. It is your body’s way of protecting you. It can help you rise to challenges and can keep you alert.

It puts you in survival mode. 

Chronic stress is different from the “flight or fight” syndrome that the body produces when it experiences acute stress. Chronic stress can change the way the body functions because the body feels like it is constantly under stress. Stress hormones are released into the body at an unprecedented rate. For example, the heart is more susceptible to disease when an excessive amount of cortisol and adrenaline are released into the body. Brain function is also thought to be compromised; learning and memory can be affected. The immune system, suffering under an onslaught of these hormones, is suppressed. It’s overworked and then it does not respond well. You are at risk because your body isn’t able to fight off diseases at an optimum level and then when you get sick it’s harder to recover.

Cortisol is produced in the adrenal cortex is the adrenal gland. It regulates blood pressure. It regulates glucose metabolism, immune function and inflammatory response. In small amounts it can heighten memory functions, lower your sensitivity to pain, helps maintain homeostasis (internal equilibrium) in the body and can give you a quick burst of energy. To turn it off, however, the body must switch on the relaxation response. If you don’t switch it off, i.e. relax, the body doesn’t have an opportunity to return to normal.

When the stress that you’re under is greater than your body is able to tolerate, you are at risk of a stress related disorder.

The body doesn’t differentiate between physical or emotional stress. Stress is stress. When you keep yourself in stress mode the body has a harder time shutting off the switch. When you think you thrive on stress and get the high from the stress that ultra Type A personality puts it under; think again.

If long-term stress can rewire the brain, I must be severely rewired. Stress can creep up on you and before you know it our old friend stress feels warm and fuzzy. It feels normal and very familiar. You get used to it. It’s sneaky. The price you pay for that familiar, over-achieving, perfectionist feeling is a heavy toll on your body.

What kind of toll?

The negative effects can impair your memory, lower the function of your thyroid, give you blood sugar issues, decrease in bone density and muscle tissue. It disables your immune system so you can quite possibly have a big bulls-eye on your back for germs in the environment.

You don’t sleep right, you don’t eat right, you don’t relax right and you think you’re cruising through life: until……………until your body says, “enough.”

Insomnia, anxiety, depression, illnesses, heart problems, autoimmune illnesses or worse.

Each of these illnesses has its own problems and when put all together you’re on a merry-go-round and getting off of that merry go round isn’t easy.

Make no mistake.

Stress can kill.

Put this together with a central nervous system dysfunction that researchers are finding in Fibromyalgia patients, and you have a recipe for disaster.

I always loved high stress positions.

I loved being a Type A squared.

I thought I was invincible.

I was wrong.

Leave a Comment