Psychological Stress Leads to Physical Pain

The more I dig into back pain, the more I come into the concept of inflammation. It’s amazing to me the number of people in the US who have chronic back pain but don’t have any sign of injury. For these people (I was one of them), the pain has just appeared over time. It’s about 8 out of 10 adults over the course of a lifetime.

The more I dig into inflammation, the more I come across cortisol. Recently, I came across this study over at It’s an unfortunate acronym, but I digress.

It reported that immune cells become resistant to cortisol when that stress hormone is chronic. This means the immune system becomes deaf to the “turn off” signal that cortisol is providing and inflammation gets out of control driving disease and pain. This sounds similar to type 2 diabetes where too much insulin from consistently high blood sugar deafens cells when signaling nutrient storage.

The study points out relationships with specific diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma, autoimmune diseases, and type 2 diabetes. Other startling references are a downstream pathway from parents who have chronic stress to children who have cancer. It also points out people with high levels of loneliness have this chronic cortisol issue.

Diatribe begin:

Holy crap. Watch the stress. Start saying no to things. Meditate. Identify any neuroses and eliminate them because they are chronic behaviors. Consider how to change chronic stress into a more positive fight-or-flight response that releases beneficial epinephrine, norepinephrine and adrenaline that tell the cells to let out their energy stores for quick action. Then take a bath. Go watch a movie. Spend time with friends. Do something fun and relaxing. Go to the beach. Surf. Yes, surf.

So much of our go-Go-GO culture is telling us how to keep going and to do even more. We see articles on how to not procrastinate and how to get more done in a day. I think procrastination is real and putting off hard things happens. However, let’s not confuse procrastination with exhaustion.

How long do you need to operate “outside of your comfort zone”? I’d say not for long periods. No chronic stress. Do hard things briefly, then recover. When forced to be in a chronically stressful situation, then expect to do diligent work to reframe it as a positive challenge and seek out the bright spots. Do focused efforts on hard tasks and then take breaks.

This is a critical study. We would do well to consider its implication in our lives.


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