What happens to people who suffer from long-term episodes of pain and stress? Many will suffer from hopelessness and depression. Some will become chemically dependent. Many will develop secondary health problems such as sleep and anxiety disorders. All of these effects point to actual changes within the brain.
So what actually happens to the brain as a result of chronic stress and pain?
Researchers at the Northwestern University Institute of Neuroscience found that people suffering with chronic back pain, for example, not only demonstrate abnormal brain chemistry, particularly in the emotional center of the brain, but also actual brain shrinkage (The Journal of Neuroscience, November, 2004). The field of neuroscience and modern technology such as the Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine has given us the ability to look inside our bodies to see where pain and stress actually reside. MRI technology shows us that stress appears in the right pre-frontal cortex of the brain, and pain appears as a reduction of the outer layer of the brain, showing up as less gray matter.
The Brain and Chronic Stress
Even though chronic pain is a major source of stress, research suggests that chronic stress, in and of itself, can shrink and destroy the brain regions responsible for memory. When we are stressed, stress hormones are released throughout our bloodstream. That’s why we think we are losing our minds when we have too much on our plates. When our bodies are overwhelmed with these hormones, we become very forgetful.
Despite the chemical and physical changes happening in the brain, research suggests that proper treatment and intervention can in fact reverse some of the damage to the brain. Brain cell regeneration does happen. It was presumed for many years that brain cells could not regenerate; however, in 1998, researchers from Sweden and the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California showed how brain cells in older adults regenerated (November, 1998 Nature Medicine).
Reduce Chronic Pain and Stress
So what is the best approach for chronic pain and stress? It depends on a number of factors. The nature and severity of your pain, your age, your disposition, the cause of your pain, etc. Is biofeedback the best approach for chronic pain and stress? What about massage therapy or aromatherapy? There is strong evidence that suggests a holistic approach is the best approach. Pain and stress affects us on every level. At Natural Wellness Care we take a holistic approach that addresses the physical, mental, emotional and Spiritual aspects of chronic pain and stress.