Beating Chronic Pain with Stress Reduction

There are 3 types of stress: physical, chemical, and emotional.

  • Physical stress can be from poor posture, hard labor, injuries, etc
  • Chemical stress is due to environmental toxins, unhealthy diet, etc
  • Emotional stress results from a bad time at work, unruly kids, deadlines, etc

When you are stressed your adrenal glands pump cortisol into your bloodstream. This causes increased blood pressure. Cortisol has different effects on the body when short term vs. long term.

Short periods of elevated cortisol: “fight or flight”, decreased pain, burst of energy. This is to help the body cope with emergency situations – the proverbial lion encountered in the wild.
Long periods of elevated cortisol: decreased cognition, suppressed thyroid function, blood sugar imbalance, decreased bone mineral density, decreased muscle mass, increased blood pressure, decreased immune function, increased abdominal fat deposition.

The body’s “fight or flight” response is the opposite of the “rest and digest”/”feed and breed” response. This is regulated by the nervous system – which is made of two separate parts: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. They act at each other’s expense so that the more of one response, the less of the other – there is only so much nervous system to go around and the body must choose between rest and digest or fight or flight. That means that you can’t rest your body and repair damage, or even properly digest your food, when you are in a stressful state.

And that is why we will now talk about stress reduction.

Physical relaxation – think about each of your body parts, from your toes to your head, relaxing one-by-one.
Mental relaxation – focus on calming thoughts, play relaxing music, and avoid stressful triggers.

Try not to let things you can’t control make you anxious. If you can’t change it, then worrying about it isn’t going to do any good.

You can relax in two ways: by doing something you enjoy doing and that puts your mind at ease or by doing absolutely nothing – turning the TV off, clearing your mind of troubling thoughts, and purposefully shifting your attention to something like your breathing rate or your heartbeat.

Contrary to popular belief, breathing isn’t very simple. To be more precise, breathing efficiently isn’t very simple. To relax you need to take deep, slow breaths from the belly and not from the upper chest. Put your hands across your belly and feel your belly stick out as you breathe in nice and slowly. Breathe with your diaphragm, not your ribs. Many stressed out people, or people with poor posture, breathe with their neck muscles or upper chests.

Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth. Feel your lower lungs fill with air first, then your middle lungs, then your upper lungs. This will take 5-10 seconds. Once you have fully inhaled through your nose take a 1 or 3 second pause and then gently let the air out. Repeat until you’re relaxed or asleep. If you are getting dizzy, you’re overdoing it.


Try to totally surround yourself with your own relaxing imaginary environment. Close your eyes. Imagine yourself at this place, maybe the beach. Feel the warm sand under your nice, clean towel. Feel your body relaxing on the sand, and it’s contouring to support you comfortably. Imagine the hot sun heating your skin with a gentle sea breeze keeping you cool. Hear the wind rustling through the trees in the distance, and hear the tide moving towards you on the beach then pulling back into the waves. Hear sea gulls somewhere far away. Focus on that for a few minutes and you have no choice but to be relaxed…unless you don’t like the beach!


Dr. Romano is a board certified and licensed chiropractor in Maryland. He practices in Frederick, Md at 1780 North Market Street. He has an interest in the science of pain and it’s relationship to chiropractic. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a Doctorate in Chiropractic. Dr. Romano and Dr. Schooley are available to speak to groups about pain, stress, the importance of a healthy nervous system, and other health topics.

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