Stress is possibly one of the most destructive and insidious barriers to the experience of good health in our world today. But not all stress is created equal, and the different types of stress have very different effects on our bodies and ultimately our wellbeing.
The first type of stress is called eustress – the prefix ‘eu’ comes from the Greek meaning “good” or “well”. Eustress was a term coined by Dr Hans Seyle in 1975. While eustress can be taxing on the body, the effects of this type of stress have a positive outcome for the individual. Some examples of eustress would include strength training, applying for a job, going on a holiday to a new place or giving birth. All of these types of stress have the potential of providing a positive and natural high to the person who achieves the outcome being sought. Associated with the release of endorphins in the brain, eustress is considered to be short-lived. The second type of stress, known as distress, is when a stressor is not eliminated through coping or adaptation and becomes persistent – this often leads to anxiety and even depression. It can also cause or worsen pain symptoms. Triggers for distress to occur can be internal or external, real or imagined. What may be stressful to one person may be not so to someone else – it is our focus and belief regarding the stressor that makes the difference here. Associated with the release of cortisol, adrenaline and other chemicals in the brain, it is this type of stress that we should be concerned with in relation to the perception of pain symptoms.
Why is understanding stress important in the treatment of pain? If we can link our stress states to pain symptoms, specifically chronic pain symptoms, it gives us some concrete actions we can take to address pain via our stress responses. It has been estimated that approximately 75% of the general population experience some type of stress every two weeks, and half of those experience moderate to high stress levels. Stress has been linked to conditions such as heart disease, strokes, depression, high blood pressure and many others, and it is also considered a major cause of back pain, headache and migraine.
It stands to reason that if we can adopt practices aimed at reducing stress in our lives, then our health will benefit on many levels.