How can stress impact pain
Stress and pain can be a vicious cycle, because stress can make your muscles tense and thus can make pain worse. Being in pain can also make you feel more stressed, so you can end up trapped in a painful spiral. When you have arthritis, this pain can be debilitating and make it harder for you to do the activities you want to do, which is also stressful.
We spoke to Heather Baumohl-Johnson, Clinical Hypnotherapist & Arthritis Action Director of Member Services & Operations, to find out more about the link between pain and stress and how to manage it.
How can stress impact pain? Can stress make arthritis worse?
“Feelings of anxiety and stress can significantly affect how well people with arthritis function and what will happen to them in the future. Commonly, people with osteoarthritis of the knee who frequently feel anxious or stressful may have worse function in their joints and muscles. These feelings can also lead to reduced levels of activity, more pain, and more isolation, which can easily then lead to more stress and anxiety in an ever-declining circle,” says Heather.
When you have arthritis, you may find it hard to go to sleep or stay asleep because of the pain which can lead to fatigue. Being tired can make you feel more stressed and also make you less likely to do things like exercise which can alleviate stress and increase endorphins.
“More often than not when experiencing anxiety, you may not know the root cause of the feeling. It is therefore important for the person to find out the root cause. "
Heather Baumohl-Johnson, Arthritis Action
What are some key tips on managing stress? What should someone do if they are struggling with stress?
“More often than not when experiencing anxiety, you may not know the root cause of the feeling. It is therefore important for the person to find out the root cause. Perhaps keep a notebook and write down what you are thinking, how your body feels, when the symptoms begin and end. Where are you going? What are you doing? What are you thinking? Over time, by examining what you write, you may be able to find the triggers and the root cause whenever you start feeling anxious,” says Heather.
It’s worth thinking about whether there is something you have in your daily life which is making your stress worse. If there’s something going on at work that you find particularly stressful, talking to a manager or HR can help you address the issue so it stops affecting your routine as much. If there’s an on-going issue in your personal life, it’s worth taking some time to see how you may respond and improve the situation. If your stress is more generalised or you’re stressing about a lot of different things at once, it may be helpful to speak to a counsellor or therapist who can help you develop tools to manage it.
“You may seek the professional help of a counsellor, a clinical hypnotherapist, and/or engage in cognitive behavioural therapy. Therapists may help you discover the root cause of your anxiety and find different ways to overcome this challenge. Cognitive behavioural therapy, for example, is one way to change the way you think about the root cause of your anxiety, and find a way for you to take back control. If one approach doesn’t work for you, try another approach until you find the one that works for you”, she continues.
If you are struggling with stress, seek help from a therapist or organisation which can help you develop coping and relaxation techniques. You can talk to a GP or, in some areas, self-refer yourself for talking therapy, or there are private options online or in person which you may find useful. Mind also has a great list of resources you could use.
It can also be helpful to speak to a trusted friend, partner or family member. They can help you practically, by perhaps taking on tasks when you feel too stressed to do them yourself, and they can offer moral support.
“Something else you could do to combat a stressful moment is take time to focus on your breathing. Breathe in and out, gently, consistently, quietly, focussing on the rise and fall of your tummy. With intent, gently let your body and your mind relax until you feel yourself drifting into a pleasant, comfortable relaxed state, all the time focussing on your breathing, in and out, in and out. If you begin to feel anxious or stressed, use this breathing technique to help both your body and your mind enter a comfortable state of relaxation,” Heather suggests.
Some people find meditation and/or mindfulness activities helpful. There are apps, like Headspace, which can help get you started if this is something you’re interested in. While exercise may be the last thing you want to do when you’re in pain, the benefits of physical activity go beyond making you healthier, fitter and stronger.
Exercise releases endorphins and can help you clear your mind, which can make a really big difference if you’re struggling with stress. Things like swimming, yoga or walking can give you something to focus on, help you regulate your breathing, improve your sleep and release those endorphins so you feel better afterwards. Exercise can also strengthen the muscle around the joints which can help reduce pain over time, so it can be beneficial for both issues.
What do you do to improve stress? Have you found that your pain is worse when you’re stressed? Let us know on social media!