Stress and Chronic Pain

When pain lingers long after it should.
When there is no satisfactory reason for why it is still there
When there is no way of getting rid of it

The thing about Medically Unexplained Symptoms (MUS) is that there is as yet no medical explanation for what you are experiencing. This makes it very hard if you happen to be suffering from one or more of the symptoms or conditions which fall into this category. It’s not unusual though. According to the NHS website MUS account for up to a fifth of all GP consultations – although they don’t say in which year.*

Conditions include:                                                         Symptoms include:

Fibromyalgia                                                            Food  Intolerances
Chronic Pain                                                             Headaches/Dizziness
Irritable Bowel Syndrome                                          Palpitations/Shortness of breath
Chronic Fatigue                                                        Pain

Imagine if we hadn’t yet found a medical explanation or treatment for migraine and the message repeatedly put out was:

It’s all in your mind

You’re attention seeking

You’re just looking for a reason not to get up.

I suppose a few of us might feign illness of this type, but most of us

If you’re lucky you might be told it’s stress. But if the main stressor in your life is your
physical condition, what do you do then?

Another difficulty about MUS, is that as there is no medical explanation, there is no medical treatment either. Ironically, Complementary Practitioners sometimes have a deeper understanding of MUS conditions and symptoms because often these are the therapists we seek out when the doctor says they can’t find anything wrong, or there is nothing more to be done. So while you are running from pillar to post looking for enough relief to carry on with your life, you find that your understanding of who you are starts to change. You are clearly no longer who you used to be because your body isn’t letting you be who you used to be. You probably find it quite a struggle to do ordinary, everyday things:

Wash your hair?
Cut your toe nails?
Hug your children?
Chop onions?
Go to work?
Spend all day out?
Hop from appointment to appointment?

You can’t plan ahead anymore because you never know how you are going to be feeling from one day to the next. When you do have a good day, you probably spend it catching up on the things you haven’t done since the last time you felt well. You find yourself perpetually behind and constantly chasing your tail. So who are you now? It’s confusing and all too easy to get stuck in the discrepancies between who you were, who you want to be and who you think you ought to be.

So what do you do?
Well, ideally you’d move past the pain, reclaim your world and your sense of self and live a fuller life than you first feared your pain would allow.

So how do you do that?

However it may come across, it’s not so much that the medical profession doesn’t want to help, it’s more that they don’t have the answers. They may sometimes be able to offer some symptomatic relief but not a long term solution or cure.

This might be true of the people around you too. They don’t know how to help, what to do or not do. Often they don’t understand what’s happening any more than you.

Although there are no outright cures for chronic pain (at the moment), there are ways of managing it and expanding your options. Learning about pacing activity and breaking the cycle of chasing your tail and then feeling constantly exhausted can make you feel more in control.

Discovering how finding a gentle form of exercise that you enjoy can help rather than hinder and why relaxation is beneficial may open up new possibilities. Finding new ways of approaching things that have become difficult or impossible can support positive changes, and understanding the impact that stress has on symptoms can help you to reduce its effects.


Well, stress does play it’s part. I’m sure at some time or other we’ve all experienced a physical symptom coming on or getting worse when we’ve been upset or stressed. Managing your stress levels can be really helpful. Try different relaxation techniques and choose ones which you will do – and will continue to do – rather than those you think you ought to be doing, or ones that you’ve never much liked but which work so well for your friend.

Also consider how you feel when you’re reminded of something which used to be stressful but has remained unresolved. How does that affect your symptoms?

If you need to sit down, lie down or rest more, then do. Many people try to fight how they are feeling and get stuck in a position of wanting the symptoms to reverse so they can get back to being who they once were. Understanding and accepting that this may not be possible can reduce the stress of internal conflict, so that you are no longer battling against yourself. Find a way of incorporating your symptoms into your sense of self. You are who you are and part of who you are now is this condition.

Another problem area can be how you communicate your needs. If you go into the kitchen and the person you want to have a serious conversation with is cooking dinner with one hand, holding the phone with the other and feeding the dog with their foot, it probably isn’t reasonable to expect them to sit down and give you their full attention. So consider how you might prepare your listener for what you have to say. Set up a time to have a cuppa because you’d like to have a chat. Think about:

What specific help you need
Who you can ask
How you would ask for help.
How much help can you ask of any one person?
Who else you might approach, if the person closest to you is clearly

If somebody close to you suffers from Chronic Pain – or some other MUS – of course you want to help them but it can be difficult to know what to do. How do you decide what help they need? Do you ask them or do you make an assumption?

If you have found the information in this article helpful or it has piqued your interest, then you may be interested in coming to our Introductory Workshop on Stress and Chronic Pain. For more information please go to (Click here )

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Nayna Kumari ©
Izzy Robertson ©

If you need somebody to talk to or would like to book a place on a Stress and Chronic Pain Introductory workshop, please contact Nayna

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