Is stress causing you physical pain?

Is stress causing you physical pain?

Many people seek my help as an acupuncturist because they want me to rid them of their pain.

They see their hurt as a simple physical manifestation. Their back hurts, their knees hurt, they feel uncomfortable tension in their shoulders, and they want it to go away.

When we begin our healing journey together, however, it soon becomes apparent that they are carrying a deeply underlying burden of stress that, if not addressed, will make their therapy a temporary fix.

We often forget that our spiritual, emotional and mental selves are connected to our physical symptoms, although research is focusing more attention on this reality.

For example, a recent survey on “Stress and Wellbeing in Australia” revealed that seven out of 10 people say their current stress load is having some impact on their physical health.

In the United States, the Brain Research Institute advises that 77 percent of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms from their burden of stress.

Sadly, there is no indication that the stresses of modern life are likely to lessen. Pew Research Institute now says that one in four people are “very worried” about a domestic terrorist attack happening soon.”

The link between stress and physical symptoms has been scientifically proven in a number of studies. One intriguing study was undertaken by Dr. Sheldon Cohen at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg.

While working with a group of study subjects with common colds, he was able to identify stress as the factor undermining our body’s capacity to deal with inflammation. (Inflammation, of course, is a common cause of physical pain that prompts people to seek relief.)

In Cohen’s study, the higher a subject’s stress scores were, the greater the likelihood was that they would catch a cold. The things he identified as making people susceptible to cold virus were problems with family and friends, overwork, and unemployment. The longer these events lasted, the greater was their susceptibility.

Working with my clients in my Five Element Acupuncture practice, I find myself gently broaching the idea to many people that sometimes-back pain is more than just a pain in their back. To experience deeper healing, we need to take a more holistic approach to determine the source of their pain and inflammation. Stress is often the culprit.

My studies and practice have convinced me to consider that the one aspect of why people carry such high stress loads today can be explained by Carl Jung’s shadow theory. In a sense “that which we think we are, we are not.”

Each of us lives in our own universe that we have created with our own thoughts, judgments and perceptions, and when we view the universe, we see it as a reflection of who we are, not what it is. We have no filters that keep our unconscious thoughts from colouring our perception.

If we can learn to step back and re-examine the universe from a deeper aspect of our personality, sometimes we can recognize that the world we think we have is not quite as it appears. When we learn to adjust our views on what is our reasonable reality, quite often we find that it is actually not as negative as we feared.

We all need to step away from our view of life occasionally and ask the question: “is stress making me sick?”

If it is, we need to ask ourselves if what we are worried about is something we can fix or remove from our lives, or is something that is absolutely out of our control. Only then can we set a path to a new era of mental and physical wellness.

Natasha Pilgrim, practitioner of Five Element Acupuncture, has a Bachelor’s Degree in Counselling and Human Change from Jansen Newman Institute, a Bachelor’s degree in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine from Sydney Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and a diploma of Energetic Healing from Nature Care College and has been committed to mindfulness mediation practice for many years. She runs her own clinic in Australia.

Reference for this blog:

Cohen, S., Tyrrell, D., and Smith, A. (1991) Psychological Stress and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. The New England Journal of Medicine. 1991; 325: 606-612. Aug. 29, 1991. Retrieved from