Is your physical pain caused by stress?

I remember being little over 13 years old and asking my father if he was ill due to how often he suffered with headaches. His reply was always "I'm just stressed". Being younger, I never quite understood what he meant, how his emotional health could cause him physical pain. Little did I know at the time that  stress, anxiety and even depression all have physical symptoms.  

Depression, stress and anxiety cause real problems with your body, they aren't just "all in your head". For example, depression can cause your digestive system to slow and in turn create stomach problems, according to WebMD(1). Due to the fact that the symptoms linked with these problems can be linked with so many other health problems, most people completely dismiss the fact it could be to do with their emotional strains, it is not entirely uncommon for doctors to miss the link either.  

Common physical symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety can be similar. These physical pains may range in severity, going from mild to severe. They tend to last for a long time, which is why they are called 'chronic'. They include, headaches, back pain, neck pain, muscle aches, joint pain and even chest pain.  Other physical problems include nausea, and excessive tiredness no matter how much you sleep. They may also cause sleeping problems, such as waking up too early or not being able to sleep. Depression, stress and anxiety can also cause lack of appetite or overeating resulting in weight change. Emotional stresses can also make you lightheaded and feeling faint. 

According to an online study(2) , the more severe the emotional symptoms, the worse the physical pain. Those suffering with chronic pain where more likely to be affected by suicidal thoughts.  

Typically, you may manage the pain with over the counter medication, yet if you don't recover from the mental health problem, the pain is likely to come back. The best option is to understand the pain as a full body and mind issue and to talk to the GP about solutions that address the whole problem. Some antidepressants can help with pain in their own right and are even prescribed in some cases of acute pain.

The most important point to take home is that there is no such a thing as a 'mental' illness and there is no such a thing as a 'physical' illness. In the same way breaking a leg or having the flu will affect your mood, depression and anxiety will affect physical pain and other physical symptoms. This artificial divide between the body and the mind that we insist on is one of the most unhelpful things we people have ever come up with. It 'feels' like they are different things but they are not. They are inextricably related. That is why a broken leg is as much in your head as chronic pain, or depression, or the flu.

Conditions traditionally thought of as 'mental' can cause physical pain, just like 'physical' conditions can cause emotional distress. It is therefore advised that if you are affected by a mental health problem and suffering with physical pain that you see your GP and don't be surprised if your GP wants to tackle the psychological symptoms as well as the physical ones as that is the best solution.

1 http://www.webmd.com/depression/physical-symptoms

2 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC486942/

Sam GlassComment