Between the global pandemic, continued racial injustices, and political upheaval, stress and anxiety seem to be built into every interaction these days. The result isn’t just mental discomfort. Stress is also leading contributor to chronic pain. The good news for yoga practitioners: Developing resilience through meditation and mindfulness practices can help you deal with stress in the moment and ongoing aches and pain.
“Stress is a physiological and psychological response to a challenging event,” says neuroscientist, mental performance coach and yoga teacher Daya Grant PhD. Acute stress triggers two main systems in the brain: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), or ‘fight or flight,’ response, and the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis, which regulates levels of stress hormones such as cortisol.
When you’re faced with an acute stress event—say, a traffic jam or getting into an argument with your partner—the body’s response is beneficial and motivates you to act. Chronic stress, however, has a harmful effect. When the SNS and HPA are regularly activated, it leads to an imbalance of inflammatory molecules that contribute to chronic pain.