Woops, I forgot to follow up on the very important topic of Stress&Pain... sorry to leave it hanging!
Here's the breakdown: Sometimes I get caught in the pain-stress cycle. I have a stress response going on in my body, I start breathing really shallow breaths and tense my muscles... this affects my pain levels, which stresses me further. Then I get afraid that I won't be able to bring the pain down again and get even more stressed... and... then I'm caught in a negative loop.
The best tool I've learned to break a stress-pain response is to take a few minutes to practice deep breathing. Apparently, just the act of using the deep belly-breathing that we do in deep and comfortable sleep sends signals to the brain that "everything's ok, you can relax...". So even though nothing around me changes, my stress response is shut down and I can then start doing things to alleviate the coming pain flare.
If the pain is already spiraling, I put on a CD with 15 minute instructed deep breathing technique (part of a stress management kit). Then I can just listen to the instructions and do what it says. It always has some positive effect. If I catch the stress response earlier on in the cycle, I can do this:
1. Stop whatever I'm doing
2. Close my eyes
3. Inhale deeply through the nose while letting my belly expand to draw oxygen down to the lower part of the lungs
4. Hold my breath shortly
5. Release and repeat 10 times
This can actually be enough to break the negative pain/stress spiral. If I follow up immediately with some happy music and a 3 minute workout to get my circulation going, I may be able to stop an incoming pain flare.