Stress Relaxation and Natural Pain Relief

 

Stress, especially chronic stress, can take a toll on your heart, lungs, muscles, and digestive system, among other body parts. Over time, this can lead to pain and inflammation that keeps you from doing the things you need to do stay healthy. 

The good news is that there are natural measures you can work into your daily routine that may help reduce both the stress and the resulting pain. 

The Body's Response to Stress

To understand how natural pain relief works, it's important to understand how stress affects your body. Pain and stress have a similar effect on the body: your heart rate and blood pressure rise, breathing becomes fast and shallow, and your muscles tighten.

You can actually feel your body's response when you're faced with a sudden, stressful event, such as fearing that a car is about to hit you. The car misses you and, in time, your system returns to normal. You relax.

The episode causes the release of hormones like cortisol, which can help you deal with a big challenge. But if it happens too often, it can start to take a toll on your body’s immune system, which makes it harder for your body to fight infection and disease.

Stress can also give you that “butterflies in the stomach” feeling and could raise your awareness of pain, bloating, and nausea. Some people even start to vomit when they feel serious pressure. This is the effect of stress on not just the stomach, but on your digestive tract as well. It can even affect mental function and mood, in part because of special hormone receptors in your gut that are linked to your brain.

With chronic stress, such as worrying about health or finances, feeling stuck in a bad job or marriage, or fearing that something bad will happen, the nervous system keeps the body on alert. This takes a big toll on your body. Levels of stress hormones increase, and muscles remain in a nearly constant state of tension. It can also cause your body to be in a chronic state of inflammation, which can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.

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Relaxation Techniques for Natural Pain Relief

Relaxation exercises calm your mind, lower the amount of stress hormones in your blood, relax your muscles, and elevate your sense of well-being. Using them regularly can lead to long-term changes in your body to counteract the harmful effects of stress.

Don't get stressed trying to pick the "right" relaxation technique for natural pain relief. Choose whatever relaxes you, like music, prayer, gardening, going for a walk, or talking with a friend on the phone. Here are some other techniques you might try:

  • Foursquare breathing. Breathe deeply so that your abdomen expands and contracts like a balloon with each breath. Inhale to a count of four, hold for a count of four, exhale to a count of four, then hold to a count of four. Repeat for ten cycles.
  • Guided imagery. Breathe slowly and deeply. For example, imagine a tranquil scene in which you feel comfortable, safe, and relaxed. Include colors, sounds, smells, and your feelings. Do for 5 to 10 minutes each day.
  • Self-talk. Change how you think about your pain and yourself. For example, change "Pain prevents me from keeping house the way I used to so I'm a failure" to "No one will die if the house isn't perfect. I can get a lot done by breaking down tasks into baby steps."
  • Hypnosis. Hypnotherapists can induce hypnosis and implant suggestions, such as "You're going to sleep soundly tonight." Record the session so that you can repeat it at home.
  • Mindfulness meditation. Sit or lie quietly and notice your breathing without controlling it. If pain or thoughts interfere, simply notice them without trying to push them away. Think of them as a cloud passing over; then return to observing your breath. Do this for about 20 minutes.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on October 13, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

American Psychological Association: "Pain, Pain, Go Away--Psychological Approaches Help People Cope With Chronic Pain." 

Arthritis Foundation: "Pain Center--Practice Relaxation." 

Dillard, J. Chronic Pain Solution: Your Personal Path to Pain Relief, Bantam Books, 2002. 

Turk, D. and Wintner, F. The Pain Survival Guide: How To Reclaim Your Life, American Psychological Association, 2006. 

Dennis C. Turk, PhD, John and Emma Bonica Professor of Anesthesiology & Pain Research, University of Washington, Seattle.

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