Cortisol & Stress
Cortisol is similar to lemon juice.
Would you put lemon juice on a paper cut?
No! Because you know it stings like crazy. ⠀
It doesn't make the paper cut worse, but it makes it feel worse.
Cortisol Side Effects
Cortisol (one of the hormones released when we're stressed) acts just the same in your body. It makes any injury or slight discomfort that you're currently experiencing feel much, much worse. ⠀
That niggly ache in your back, the sore shoulders from too much computer work (or texting), the bruise on your hip when you banged into the door the other day ... yup, they all feel worse if you're stressed. ⠀
And the interesting thing is that stress is rarely addressed during injury rehab. So if you visit your physio for some treatment and it doesn't seem to be getting any better, you could consider whether that's related to your current stress levels.
When we perceive a situation as a threat, our cortisol levels raise, so we gradually build up a library of known stressors to help us avoid future dangers. These stressors could be pain related, or not, but they'll all end up lumped together in the same part of our internal filing system - the one that helps us avoid future dangers. ⠀
Each time we experience a stressor, cortisol is released. If this new stressor just happens to be an injury (say you've stubbed your toe) then you'll feel it much more acutely, because your body is telling you it's falling into the same category as those other, previous threats. So our internal messaging system (that voice saying "Get me out of here!") ultimately makes us more sensitive to pain. ⠀
It's a survival mechanism - if we feel pain, we're more motivated to make changes, moving ourselves away from the perceived cause of the threat. ⠀
However, the good news is that by developing coping strategies, using tools such as yoga and meditation to aid cognitive reappraisal or confrontation of stressors, we may minimize cortisol secretion and prevent chronic, recurrent pain.
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