Emotional Stress, Trauma, and Chronic Pain

Many people are already familiar with the fact that emotional stress can lead to physical symptoms such as stomachaches, irritable bowel syndrome, and headaches, but they might not know that it can also lead to complicated pain. One logical reason for this: the more anxious and stressed people are, the more tense and constricted their muscles are, over time causing the muscles to become fatigued and inefficient.

Additionally, people with chronic pain tend to report much higher rates of having experienced trauma in their past, when compared to people whose pain resolves quickly. It is a common and consistent finding in the research.  When compared to the general population, people with chronic pain tend to have at least double the rates of trauma in their past.

Trauma and its resultant anxiety is a condition of the nervous system being in a persistent state of reactivity. Trauma leads to anxiety, physiological arousal, and avoidance behaviors. These reactions to trauma are all indicators of a persistently aroused or reactive nervous system. As such, these persons are more prone to develop over-sensitization, and to transition from an acute injury or illness to complicated pain.

More subtly, one might develop psychosomatic symptoms or stress-related symptoms because of unresolved emotional issues. These are not new discoveries; researchers have studied the mind/body connection for years because of the importance of this link.  During a traumatic event, the nervous system goes into survival mode (the function of the sympathetic nervous system) and sometimes has difficulty reverting back to its normal, relaxed mode again (the function of the parasympathetic nervous system). If the nervous system stays in survival mode, stress hormones such as cortisol are constantly released, causing an increase in blood pressure and blood sugar, which can in turn reduce the immune system's ability to heal. Physical symptoms start to manifest when the body is in constant distress.

Your physical pain may be a sign that there is still emotional work to be done, and it can also indicate unresolved trauma. Even if you have grieved and processed the emotional impact of a trauma, your nervous system might still unwittingly be in survival mode.

Because trauma has been found to have a strong correlation to chronic pain, an approach that is specifically tailored to addressing trauma is highly recommended. 

Please contact us to learn more about chronic pain and EMDR, an approach to treating trauma that is so effective it has been approved by organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association, the World Health Organization and the Department of Defense.