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Physical Pain and Emotional Pain

What’s the Connection?

By

Updated January 13, 2013

Sometimes we read or hear that emotional pain can exacerbate physical pain. But what exactly is “emotional pain?” Here are some examples of different types of emotional pain and the ways they affect your physical sense of well-being.

Sadness

Sadness involves bottled-up feelings of grief or disappointment. Choking back those tears takes a lot of energy, leaving your feeling drained, burdened and achy. Sadness should not be confused with depression, which can be successfully treated with properly prescribed medications.

You should consult with your doctor and be completely honest about any alcohol or drugs you have been using to cope. If you're suffering from depression, becoming abstinent may help improve it, as depression is sometimes caused by alcohol or drug use. Talk to your doctor about whether this is a possibility before taking anti-depressants.

Unexpressed Anger

Anger releases adrenalin, which increases muscle tension and speeds up breathing. This is the ‘fight’ part of the “fight/flight/freeze” response. Without being expressed, the anger causes long-term tension.

Anxiety

As with anger, anxiety, worry or fear release adrenalin. This generally results in jumpiness, a tendency to startle easily, the inability to relax (the "flight" part of the "flight/flight/freeze" response, or a feeling of being immobilized or stuck (the “freeze” part of the “fight/flight/freeze” response).

In some people, anxiety is a symptom of an anxiety disorder, and prescription medication can help. However, some anti-anxiety medication is addictive.

Anxiety can be induced by alcohol or drugs, and quitting alcohol and drugs can resolve the symptoms. Tell your doctor about any alcohol or drug use to ensure you are properly diagnosed and treated.

Shame / Guilt

Shame and guilt often result in a feeling of “butterflies” or weight in the stomach. Common among people with addictions and chronic pain, shame is worsened by the need for secrecy and the inability to do things for yourself.

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Sources

Caudill, M. Managing Pain Before it Manages You. Third Edition. New York: Guildford. 2009.

Sadler, J. Pain Relief Without Drugs: A Self-Help Guide for Chronic Pain and Trauma. Third Edition. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press. 2007.

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