Stress and Pain

By now most of you would have seen the little incident with Mick Fanning (pro surfer) and a sizeable shark. If you haven't here is a little refresher

 

Thankfully there was no harm done to human (or animal). But the reaction and emotion of Mick Fanning is clear to see. There was an immediate flight or fight response as his muscles tensed and he was able to move very quickly and even punch the shark out of pure instinct. Immediately afterwards he is ashen faced as all blood is rushed to vital organs while the brain processes what is happening. To the brain there may have been injury and its main concern at that moment is keeping the body alive. This happens automatically.

The key message here is that stress is important. Very important. It may even save your life. But it is only good in small doses.

We live very strange lives now. We are constantly under pressure, creating stressful situations for ourselves through our personal and professional lives. Remember the last time you had to slam on the brakes in the car and the feeling immediately after that your heart was going to pound out of your chest? A sudden rush of hormones through the body (which help heighten senses) like adrenaline and cortisol causes muscle contraction and the heart goes crazy. The effects of an acute stress response are obvious but they are not pleasant.

Likewise, chronic levels of stress have much longer lasting and negative effects on the body: 

  • Muscles contract and stay tense, like they are on guard 
  • Risks of cardiovascular disease increase as the heart and major blood vessels become overworked
  • Stress hormones have a negative effects on the liver which affects blood sugar reabsorption in some people making them at higher risk of type 2 diabetes
  • male and female reproductive function can be severely compromised (1)

Then there is PAIN. In acute stress situations the stress hormones have an affect of dulling any pain. Just like a fight or flight situation when it is not really important to feel pain, it's all about survival. But excess levels of cortisol and adrenaline in chronic stress situations end up turning the volume up on pain and this can be very bad for long term health.

How do you think you would feel swimming around in J-Bay South Africa right now? Imagine you had to do that every day for the next week, month, or year. The "shark" is chronic stress and it can hurt you in more ways than one.

1. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-body.aspx

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