The ever-present connection between stress and the body

The busier I get, the more I notice my physical and emotional interactions

Karen Del Vecchio avatar

by Karen Del Vecchio |

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As a teacher, I couldn’t be more ready for winter break. And I’m not alone: Though we still have a few days before we’re done for a while, the students and staff can’t wait, either. I’m overtired, stressed out, and sore. And while I’m guessing many of my colleagues feel similarly, I think my experience is exacerbated by my Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS).

The past several months have been more stressful than usual. While the fall is always a busy time for me, as my local high school’s college/postgraduate counselor as well as a teacher, this year it’s been even more so. In addition to having all of my usual work, I lost my grandfather and have been managing an injured horse, plus I’ve recently brought my horses from their farm to live with me at my home.

That’s added several layers of pressure, and even though I know that stress and emotions are intertwined with my physical feelings, I’m still amazed sometimes just how much that’s true.

When my stress level goes up, I quickly feel it in my shoulders, which are already a source of struggle. I’m constantly doing my best to manage the shoulder that’s worse, and stress can quickly take me from standard EDS soreness to a full-blown pain flare. And for me at least, once those muscles knot up and are in “on” mode, they’re not going to let go without some intensive massage, even if the source of the stress dissipates. It’s tough to break the cycle.

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Whole-body reactions

I also tend to feel an overall physical and emotional soreness when I get as stressed as I’ve been recently. It’s hard to describe, but I guess I’d say that when my body is achy and gets tired more easily, I’m aware my mind can get overwhelmed and tire more quickly, too. I also seem to have a lower threshold for a physical pain flare. Similarly, my capacity to handle emotions is definitely diminished when I’m stressed, and small things that wouldn’t normally upset me can suddenly feel like big problems.

It’s fascinating to me that I can actually notice and feel how my physical pain and emotions work together. EDS can cause chronic fatigue, more frequent injury, and other physical ailments to go with my anxiety; the body and emotions do play off each another.

I’ve learned recognizing that connection is an important part of my being able to “slow the roll,” so to speak, of the inevitable snowball effect that can happen when my physical state and emotional stress begin to intertwine. It helps to remind myself of that connection and keep my stress levels in check so that I feel the best I can. It’s also important to remember the reverse and admit that the stress and anxiety I feel is likely magnified by my physical discomfort.

When I’m conscious of this dynamic, I can maintain my objectivity at a time when emotions can easily take over if I’m not careful. That in turn helps me manage these interactions of stress and EDS — important in an emotional time like the days before winter break!

Note: Ehlers-Danlos News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Ehlers-Danlos News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Ehlers-Danlos.


Carolyn Adams Monaco avatar

Carolyn Adams Monaco

Thank you as always, Karen. You're not alone--nor am I, nor is anyone else reading your posts.
P.S. Did you previously live in Brookline, MA, perchance -- or do you simply share a name with someone here?

Karen Del Vecchio avatar

Karen Del Vecchio

Thanks, Carolyn! That sentiment of community is definitely a big reason why I enjoy this community so much. I don't have connections to Brookline, but I know there are many up that way that share my name!

WendyMaq avatar


The holidays are notoriously difficult for me, but now I have the added stress of my father's recent diagnosis of mesothelioma. I went to see my ENT last week and he asked if I was stressed. I laughed. He explained I was probably experiencing silent reflux; the EDS makes it easy to pass through the lower esophageal sphincter. Then, the upper airways turn on their defenses to protect themselves from whatever is coming up the esophagus. Not wanting to add to the fistful of meds I already take, he prescribed stress reduction in the way of doing more things that I enjoy. (Isn't he the best??!!) Not an easy thing to do when you're in pain and grieving, but I'm going to give it a shot.

Karen Del Vecchio avatar

Karen Del Vecchio

Wow, it sounds like you have an awesome doctor! Sending good thoughts your way as you navigate this time.

Mischa Brown avatar

Mischa Brown

Thank you for this excellent explanation of how stress can affect us physically, mentally and emotionally. Very validating.

Holly Hanson Blair avatar

Holly Hanson Blair

Thank you, Karen....for helping those of us who suffer with hEDS feel as though there are others who understand. I am also a teacher and have two teenage daughters with hEDS and this has all been so difficult to diagnose and navigate. We are much further along than we were two years ago and I am grateful to those who communicate about this obscure disorder. Thank you for your posts.

Karen Del Vecchio avatar

Karen Del Vecchio

Thanks so much for taking the time to write, Holly! I too appreciate the sense of community among those with EDS.


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