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Emotional Effects on Pain

By Bailee Meier, Chiropractic Intern

Have you ever experienced one of those days or possibly weeks, in which nothing is going your way? You wake up to make breakfast and realize someone used the last of the eggs, you get in the car to go to work and realize you didn’t get gas on your way home yesterday so now you have to make a stop that unfortunately makes you late, and it’s not even 8:00 A.M.! To top it off, that nagging pain in your low back is the worst it has been in weeks!

Why is this? Is this pain just the world's way of trying to keep you inside, hidden from anything else that could possibly go wrong? Believe it or not, this is not the case. We often have the tendency to think that pain is strictly a physical sensation, when in reality, it is much more complex. Pain can actually be broken down into three components; biological, psychological and emotional. For the purpose of this blog, I will be focusing solely on the emotional connection to pain.

Okay, so we have pain and emotions, but where is the connection? Well, let's take a look back at the example in the first paragraph. I’m sure we have all had days similar to this. Emotions such as sadness, anger, fear, anxiety, and many more can all contribute negatively to pain. Now what may have started as a minor ache is now a debilitating discomfort. These emotions can cause us to focus more of our attention to that area of pain; just the pure bombardment of emotions can be a lot for our body to comprehend all at once. This type of overload can cause our body profound stress, which exaggerates the pain we are feeling, causing that minor pain to feel like a serious injury. This can contribute to a negative feedback loop, in which one experiences pain, followed by an emotional response, which then leads to worsened perceived pain. This loop can also begin with emotion which develops into pain, shortly accompanied by more negative emotions about said pain. Although these emotions may manifest in our brain, the physical effects one feels is much more than some falsehood of imagination.

Woah. It sounds like these emotions are a powerful thing and can really cause some damage. So, what should you do? Is this avoidable? Great news! Everything said above can also be said for positive emotions, which can have the opposite effect for pain. Think about how rare it is to experience some form of truly uncomfortable pain while on vacation. This can be attributed to experiencing emotions of joy, serenity, and gratitude. These emotions can essentially distract our brain from a minor pain that we may have been feeling previously. This stops the negative feedback loop mentioned previously dead in its tracks before it begins to spiral. People that approach their pain with a positive attitude often get the benefit of experiencing less intense and fewer episodes of pain. This allows you to continue doing what you love and remain active, which further helps your body with the healing process.

With that being said, let's take a look at three easy things you can do to help improve pain that is being intensified by your emotions.

  1. Exercise and stay active. This doesn’t have to be complex, just pick something you enjoy! This might be a walk through the park or hitting the weights at the gym.

  2. Be attentive. Work on becoming conscious of situations that may provoke or intensify your pain as well as those that relieve it. This way you can start formulating a plan to help resolve this problem.

  3. Give your best effort. We are human; we all have good days and not so good days, be kind to yourself. Remember it doesn’t have to be all or none, anything is better than nothing!

So, the next time you find yourself having a tough day, think back to what you have learned in this blog. Apply the steps listed above to bring yourself back down to earth and begin the healing process your body is begging you for. Your mind and body will be thankful you did!

Kolski, M. C., & O'Connor, A. (2015). A world of hurt: A guide to classifying pain. Thomas Land Publishers Incorporated.

Bailee Meier is a chiropractic student from Palmer College in Davenport, Iowa, completing her internship at Washington Park Chiropractic. Her mission is to spread the good word of chiropractic care as she empowers her patients to live their best lives.


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