Although widely unrecognised, the majority of chronic pain conditions are actually triggered by the emotional brain as a result of stress. Unfortunately because of the stigma attached to any hint of mental health involvement, the use of terms such as stress, psychosomatic or psychophysiological, are often not accepted when used in connection with conditions that are commonly believed to be due to a physical cause.
Adapted ‘fight & flight’ response
Our body’s response to stress helps us cope with any kind of demand on us and can be caused by both good and bad experiences. Unlike in days gone by when our automatic ‘fight and flight’, or stress, response was generally triggered when there was a threat to our lives, these days this stress response is triggered much more easily and usually due to psychological influences. Our pace of life, information overload and social expectations mean that many of us are in a constant state of stress ‘arousal’, often without even realising it, because it has become ‘the norm’.
Stress-induced symptoms occur when our own resources are unable to cope with significant, or persistent, pressure from real or even perceived stressors in our life. Metaphorically speaking symptoms manifest in the body as an escape mechanism from the build up of emotional turmoil that has no other outlet.
Just as blushing, a racing heart and sexual arousal are an automatic response when the brain is triggered by emotions, so too are symptoms such as pain/numbness/fatigue/musclae spasm etc caused when surfacing emotions trigger the brain. Normal nerve pathways in the brain and central nervous system are involved in all these unconscious and automatic responses, so medical diagnostic tests are often normal even when symptoms are severe.
Why symptoms can persist
The symptoms themselves are very real and may occur anywhere in the body. If the symptoms are misdiagnosed as being due to a physical cause, they can often persist for years and might be mild, or even bad enough to cause severe disability. As long as tissue damaging causes have been ruled out though, such as cancer, infection, a fracture or an auto-immune disorder, then it is more than likely if you have persistent pain, it will be stress induced.
Recovery from stress illness does not involve medication, or physical treatments, yet because symptoms of stress illness can be reversed, once the underlying causes are recognised and addressed, full recovery is possible, often when no other treatment has helped.
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