It is estimated that fibromyalgia affects roughly 10 million people in America alone, most of them women. The cause of fibromyalgia continues to be elusive, but recent research has begun to narrow some of the causes down to a central nervous system disorder. It is also labeled as a chronic neurological illness that causes intense muscular pain and weakness and is characterized by fatigue, pain, and sleeplessness. Chronic fibromyalgia pain is something that can be a lifelong ordeal and it often takes its toll on relationships, job performance, and quality of life.
How Does Stress Affect Fibromyalgia?
One of the precursors to fibromyalgia is stress. Although we say that stress can be a good thing, the fact for fibromyalgia sufferers is that stress is a trigger for the disorder. Muscle pain can be triggered by stress, as can headaches, nausea, and depression. The hormones that are released with stress interfere with pain receptors and end up causing serious grief. It works like this:
· When a stressful event occurs the hypothalamus (part of the brain) becomes involved and releases a hormone called corticotrophin releasing factor (CRF) that protects us from stress by enhancing our mood.
· The CRF then signals the pituitary gland to release another hormone called Adrenocorticotropic hormone corticotrophin (ACHT) which tells the adrenal glands to release cortisol. Cortisol speeds up the metabolism.
· At the same time that all of this is happening, the brain stem and spinal cord signal the adrenal glands to secrete epinephrine, preparing the body for the flight or fight response. The heart rate, breathing and alertness pick up.
· The signal system goes back to the pituitary gland and the new stress level is assessed. If the stress is reduced the process stops – otherwise it repeats itself. Extended over a long period of time, the cycle can have a negative effect upon both mental and physical health.
If you have fibromyalgia, you must learn to deal with stress rather than live with it because it is stress that will exacerbate the symptoms of the condition. Stress causes muscle tightening, an increase in blood pressure and can trigger headaches, depression and other symptoms. Stress also causes extreme fatigue and affects perception of pain, making FM sufferers more susceptible to pain than people who don’t have the condition. It is possible to eliminate certain stressful triggers with behavior modification and nutritional supplements.
5 Effective Ways to Deal with Stress
Loosening the grip of stress is often easier said than done, usually because people with FM tend to put themselves and their self-care at the bottom on the list rather than at the top. Some simple lifestyle changes can make stress levels subside considerably.
1. Biofeedback therapy can teach a person how to control stress in their lives.
2. Exercise promotes good health and releases endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers and mood enhancers.
3. Ensuring good sleep is particularly important – even though sleeplessness is common with FM.
4. Relaxation therapy calms the body and the mind and can be very effective.
5. A warm bath or sitting in a hot tub or steam room decreases the secretion of stress hormones and raises the levels of endorphins. An added bonus is that the moist heat relaxes muscles as well.
How Vitamin B12 is Linked to Fibromyalgia
Nutritionally, there has been a strong link between vitamin B12 deficiency and fibromyalgia with numerous studies confirming the connection. B vitamins help to regulate the biochemical functions discussed earlier and as a result can reduce stress. You may know that the B vitamins, particularly B3, B6, and B12 are known as stress vitamins and a deficiency of these vitamins manifest in the same way as many FM symptoms, particularly:
· Muscle soreness
Recommended dosages of B12 vary from individual to individual so it is best to have a doctor get a baseline B12 measurement in order to find out what the level of deficiency is. Vitamin B12 can be administered by injection, pill or patch and, when taken as part of a holistic therapy for treatment of FM, it can be very effective in addressing stress-related symptoms.