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Stressed out? It could lead to chronic physical pain

Stressed out? It could lead to chronic physical pain

Researchers took a look at stress to determine how it really affects the body

March 9th, 2013 by Daryl Nelson of ConsumerAffairs in News

If you ask me, people are way too snarky these days.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of a little snarkiness sometimes and I can appreciate a certain brand of sarcasm in the right situation, but only if these approaches are interspersed with some kindness and straight talk, which many snarky and sarcastic people forget to do.

Being around someone who is always snarky and sarcastic makes me wonder if people are purposely being that way or if there's an underlying reason, like being stressed, that causes it.

According to the folks at, stress typically brings on feelings of resentment, annoyance, negativity, cynicism, pessimism, and, yes, sarcasm. So maybe a person who seems to be annoyed at more things than they're inspired by  may be living in a constant state of stress, and the only outlet they have to express their negative feelings is cynical speech.

New research findings released by the American Psychological Association (APA) and conducted by Harris Interactive found that 39% of U.S. residents said their stress level had increased in the past year and 44% said stress for them increased over the past five years, and as people continue to live with these feelings, it doesn't only lead to negative and sarcastic talk, it can lead to a host of serious health problems as well.

"Various studies have shown that chronic stress is a major driver of chronic illness, which in turn is a major driver of escalating health care costs in this country," said Dr. Norman B. Anderson, APA's CEO and executive vice president.

"It is critical that the entire health community and policymakers recognize the role of stress and unhealthy behaviors in causing and exacerbating chronic health conditions, and support models of care that help people make positive changes."

Chronic pain

A constant amount of stress doesn't only have the potential to cause serious illnesses, it can have a lot to do with people experiencing chronic pain too, researchers say.

Doctors at the University of Montreal said there is a common link between stress levels and pain levels and those who have a lot of activity in the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain that deals with emotion and memory; stressed-out people had raised cortisol levels and an increased amount of chronic pain too.

In the study, doctors gathered 24 patients, who were either living with chronic pain or were totally healthy with no pains at all. Then saliva samples were taken from each person and they were asked to share how much chronic pain they experienced.

The subjects of the study then received brain scans to determine the size of the hippocampus and received an additional scan to track the brain's response to pain.

Afterwards, researchers found those people with the smallest hippocampus volume had an increased vulnerability to pain, which means if you're living with stress and continue not to do anything about it, you should probably expect your pain to continue or maybe even get worse.

"Cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, is sometimes called the "stress hormone' as it is activated in reaction to stress," said lead study author Étienne Vachon-Presseau. "Our study shows that a small hippocampal volume is associated with higher cortisol levels, which lead to increased vulnerability to pain and could increase the risk of developing pain chronicity."

Treat the stress

The co-author of the study, Dr. Pierre Rainville, says people should be seeking stress treatment as well as pain treatment to rid their body of pain, and they should deal with the fears and anxieties that are associated with being worried about their pain flaring up.

"Our research sheds more light on the neurobiological mechanisms of this important relationship between stress pain, whether the result of an accident is illness or surgery, pain is often associated with high levels of stress," said Dr. Rainville.

"Our findings are useful in that they open up avenues for people who suffer from pain to find treatments that may decrease its impact and perhaps even prevent chronicity. To complement their medical treatment, pain sufferers can also work on their stress management and fear of pain by getting help from a psychologist and trying relaxation or mediation techniques," he said.

But how else do you eliminate stress? Because as most people know, it's much easier to pick it up than to get rid of it.

According to non-profit organization that provides information on conditions like depression, bipolar disorder and stress-it's first important to recognize why you're stressed and learn exactly what it is that's stressing you.

In addition, HelpGuide says it's important to take full responsibility of your stress level and you should stop blaming things like other people, your job and your lifestyle.

Furthermore, if you always consider your stress level to be temporary and you're always waiting for it to subside, it probably isn't temporary at all, and you should seek help as soon as possible.

So again, if you hate more things than you love or roll your eyes in annoyance more than use them to recognize the beautiful aspects of life, it could be a sign that you're living stressfully and need to do something about it, especially since being stressed can lead to a host of life altering ailments and increase the physical pain that you're already living with.