“I hit the breaking point last Friday when my boss bumped up this massive project by a whole week,” my 29-year-old patient Jennifer told me during our initial consultation. “I mean, who does that? With two kids at home, social obligations, and an hour commute each way, it became the final straw and I just…snapped.”
Jennifer landed a position at a high-pace Manhattan law firm last year and was determined to pave a steady career path. But that determination often meant 70-hour workweeks, a frantic office environment, and deadlines getting pushed up. Chronic stress took a massive toll on Jennifer’s weight and health. She had put on about 20 pounds, suffered frequent migraines, and developed lower-back pain that was really affecting her quality of life.
Use your stress response only when you need it.
As a Manhattan-based doctor of physical therapy who focuses on pain management, I frequently see these (and so many other) repercussions of a high-stress environment. “If this were a one-time event, your body would release the hormone adrenaline to increase your heart rate and respiration, thus increasing blood flow and oxygen to tissues,” I told Jennifer. “Adrenaline prepares you for fight or flight. You wouldn’t normally feel pain during an acute stress response.” Unfortunately, Jennifer’s stress wasn’t a one-time situation; it was frequent, cumulative, and chronic, which kept her stress hormone cortisol elevated when it shouldn’t have been. Cortisol has a similar effect as adrenaline, but it’s more potent and lasts longer.
Jennifer’s physician prescribed a low-sugar diet, some stretches she could do at the office, and Xanax to reduce stress and anxiety, but she wasn’t satisfied with those pat solutions, which is why she visited me. Unfortunately, most doctors overlook a huge reason patients like Jennifer struggle with pain and weight. Yes, diet and exercise are important, but the third pillar of pain management comes from a source few professionals speak about: your brain.
Pain has more to do with your brain than your body.
Pain is created in your brain—and nowhere else! Not in your joints, muscles, or any other part of your body. Understanding…