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The Connection Between Pain and Emotion

Updated: Aug 12, 2022

For chronic pain Warriors, the way we think and feel plays a crucial role in how chronic pain is experienced. Chronic pain is a biopsychosocial disorder that relates the wellbeing of the mind to the pain that occurs in the body. Negative thoughts about the world, ourselves, and the pressures and stressors faced can affect how the brain wires the pain system.

From personal experience in the past, I have found as a fellow chronic pain Warrior and Chronic Pain Coach, that feelings of frustration, loneliness, depression, and disappointment can lead to longer duration and higher intensity of pain attacks. Read more below to learn about the connection between pain and emotions and what to do when stuck in the negative cycle of chronic pain.

Emotions and Pain

The way we feel emotionally and mentally affects physical wellbeing and our ability to heal. According to a research study done by Wayne State University, Duke University Medical Center, and St. John Health/Providence Hospital and Medical Centers, it shows that the link between emotions and pain "generate[s] central nervous system pain sensitization."

Naturally, pain is a signal received from the outside world that the body is in danger, so it sends a pain signal as a response to the threat. Unfortunately, when pain signals are sent constantly for long periods of time due to chronic stress, negative emotions, thoughts, injury, or a traumatizing event, the brain's pain system becomes oversensitized. An oversensitized pain system, or central nervous system, means that the brain perceives the body is in danger far longer than it is supposed to and has entered into fight-flight-freeze mode.

Feelings of disappointment from personal and career goals, the frustration of comparing past health and abilities to the present, loneliness from feeling misunderstood or unsupported, and anxiety of what the future holds are all thoughts and emotions that contribute to the brain feeling unsafe and overstressed. Therefore, these emotions cause increased duration and intensity of chronic pain and prevent the mind from entering rest-relaxation-restoration mode to heal.

How to Manage Negative Emotions and Chronic Pain

One of the most meaningful lessons I learned when beginning my pain management journey was that my thoughts and emotions made a difference in the way I felt physically. Without positive thinking, practicing mindfulness, and honing in on my mental and emotional wellbeing as a response to chronic physical pain, I would not be in a position to strive towards personal growth.

By knowing thoughts and emotions like judgmental thinking, negative self-esteem, depression, and anxiety are linked to oversensitized pain systems, Chronic Pain Warriors can focus on strengthening these areas to help relax the brain and decrease flare-ups.

If you need help with change-talk and finding ways to incorporate holistic methods to improve mental and emotional wellbeing, download my free pain management guide by clicking here!

P.S. I read this passage by Charles Swindoll that resonated with me and why it was so important to work on my mental and emotional wellbeing to improve my physical health. The way we think and feel all plays a part in our attitude towards ourselves, the world, and our ability to feel better.

"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts, it is more important than the past than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think, say or do..." - Attitudes by Charles Swindoll

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