Many situations and circumstances can impact the way you perceive pain. For example, your pain may feel slightly diminished when you participate in a family activity as opposed to when you focus on a work project you’ve been putting off.
While chronic pain has definite and often treatable physical causes, your pain also interacts with your perception of the world, including your emotions.
In this blog, we discuss how your emotional well-being may cause, alter, or help treat your physical pain.
The Whole-Body Cycle
Your brain is an organ, just like your liver or lungs. But the condition of your brain has a bigger effect on your overall health than even your digestive or respiratory systems since your brain gives the orders for your whole body to function. Emotions can change your brain chemistry, producing side effects throughout your body.
One of the biggest places you might notice the effect of your emotions is in the way you feel pain. Often, when a person experiences strong negative emotions, he or she also experiences more intense physical pain.
In fact, some studies suggest that a “broken heart” isn’t just a metaphor. Studies show that the same areas of the brain activate when you feel physical pain as when you experience sadness or rejection.
Unfortunately, the impact doesn’t stop after your emotions intensify or decrease your pain. Many people experience emotional responses based on physical circumstances. For example, many adults with chronic pain report greater levels of stress and sadness.
This whole-body cycle means that both your mental and physical pain have long-term repercussions on your overall health.
Individual Emotions and Their Effects
In this complex cycle between physical and mental experience, some emotions evoke distinctly different physical responses. Some of the strongest negative connections include the following.
Feelings of intense sadness, helplessness, or hopelessness have a specific, and often immediate, impact on physical health. Many people with depression report fatigue, sleep disruptions, weight changes, and more intense pain. Similarly, people with chronic pain often experience more intense depression levels.
Treatment of mild depression can include physical therapy and lifestyle changes. Clinical depression, however, may require medication and counseling.
Fear and Anxiety
Fear and anxiety cause the mind and body to stay on edge, often for painfully long periods of time. Fear can cause tense muscles, soreness, lack of concentration, vulnerability to injury, and more frequent pain. Unfortunately, because most people worry about experiencing physical pain or disability, fear often increases the severity of pain they experience.
You can begin to address the fears that surround your pain by attending a support group, contacting your doctor, or researching your condition. If your anxiety persists, you may benefit from discussing your experience with a mental health professional who may prescribe anti-anxiety medication.
Stress can occur in a negative or positive way. Negative stress often comes with feelings of frustration and inefficacy, while positive stress often accompanies excitement and other high-intensity emotions. Both forms of stress can result in higher blood pressure and breathing rate, bodily tension, insomnia, and higher pain intensity.
To control the negative effects of positive stress, limit your exposure to particularly emotional situations. You can prevent negative stress by avoiding stressors like interpersonal conflict and frustrating tasks. If you find yourself experiencing inexplicable stress and anger, you may benefit from an anger management course, one-on-one counseling, or the help of a support group.
As you work to control negative emotions, remember that positive emotions also influence pain perception. Spending time with your loved ones, participating in activities you enjoy, and empowering yourself can all work to improve your quality of life over time.
Breaking the Negative Cycle
While you work with a specialist or physical therapist to address the causes of your pain, think about your mental state. Do you frequently feel sad, frustrated, or stressed? Do you have identifiable reasons for feeling your most common negative emotions?
Awareness can help you better understand the way your body responds to both physical and mental stressors. Additionally, acknowledging your emotions and their effect on your body can give you the motivation to achieve better emotional health.
If you frequently feel consumed by negative emotions, consider changing your exercise, diet, and social habits to emphasize the things and people you enjoy most. If your small changes don’t seem to have enough of an impact, seek help from a qualified mental health professional.
For those suffering from mental illness or emotional disorders, psychiatric therapy can prove just as important as physical therapy.
The next time your pain level changes, take note of your emotional state. You may start to notice patterns that you can use to predict or control the intensity of your pain to some extent.
To learn more about pain management and treatment, browse through the rest of our blog.