A person’s stress level has a marked effect on both your central and peripheral nervous systems. The central nervous system (CNS) consists of your brain and spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system (PNS) includes all other nervous system tissue—the nerves exiting your spinal cord, all sensory receptors, and sensory and motor neurons.
The secretion of survival “flight or fight” hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol and histamines affects every cell in the body, with the potential of creating over thirty physical symptoms. One of them, as demonstrated in laboratory animal studies, is increased speed of nerve conduction, which intensifies the sensation of pain (Chen). From a strict survival perspective, it makes sense: When the situation calls for it, you shouldbe on high alert, in order to defend yourself and whoever else you’re responsible for protecting. But the relentless bombardment of stress hormones takes a toll on your body.
Consider driving your car down the freeway at 70 mph in second or third gear, instead of cruising in fourth or fifth. How long do you think your over-extended engine would hold up? The same is true for your body. Not only will you suffer a multitude of physical symptoms manifested by the burden placed on your body; you will be operating with a weakened immune system. For example, a large study found a clear connection between chronic stress and autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, ankylosing spondylitis, and psoriasis, among others (Song). Research results going back fifty years identify chronic stress as a risk factor for frequent and serious illnesses (Rahe), and a shortened life span (Torrance).
Factors that Determine the State of Your Nervous System
- Quality of sleep.Are you getting enough? Lack of sleep compromises every aspect of your treatment, whether it is surgical or non-operative care.
- Level of chronic stress.Are you chronically anxious, frustrated, depressed, angry, fearful?
- Level of situational stress.Are you dealing with an unusually difficult situation in your life, in addition to the problems created by your pain?
- Physical manifestations.Are you experiencing random symptoms such as rashes, headaches, or tinnitus?
- Commitment to recovery.Are you open-minded regarding learning about the nature of chronic pain and the principles behind solving it? Are you willing to commit to a long-term program that will resolve your pain and improve the quality of your life? Are you addicted to your pain or using it to your advantage? Believe it or not, people often become addicted to being in pain. One’s medical condition can be powerful weapon, and the unwillingness to let it go is the one greatest obstacle to healing.
Considering these five areas is meant to give you a feel for the state of your nervous system and the extent to which protective (harmful when sustained) stress hormones are coursing through your body. This is crucial information for you to know. A hyper-vigilant nervous system negatively affects not only your pain and your surgical outcomes, but your overall quality of life as well.
- Chen, X et al. “Stress enhances muscle nociceptor activity in the rat.” Neuroscience (2011); 185: 166 – 173.
- Song, H et al. “Association of stress-related disorders with subsequent autoimmune disease.” Journal of the American Medical Association(2018); 319: 2388 – 2400.
- Rahe, R et al. “Social stress and illness onset.” Journal of Psychosomatic Research (1964); 8: 35.
- Torrance, N et al. “Severe chronic pain is associated with increased 10-year mortality: A cohort record linkage study. European Journal of Pain (2010); 14: 380– 386.