When we hurt emotionally, we hurt physically. It’s been studied and the connection is real. I believe that understanding this connection is a big part of holistic pain relief. Plus, I think that most of us have experienced this in one way or another. For example, when the stress in my life increases I usually find that one of my nagging pain issues will return. Right now it’s the lower back and hips, because I have some extra family stresses.
From Mel Pohl, M.D. who blogs about chronic pain at PsychologyToday.com, “Especially in our culture, where we resist pain and want to move away from it at all cost, we create a vicious cycle where our attempts to move away from the pain actually intensify the pain. The fight to tighten up in response to a painful experience or be angry that it hurts makes the pain worse. By accepting and investigating the emotions we experience with chronic pain with curiosity, rather than judgment, we can achieve substantial improvements in our well-being. Emotions are as real as the pain that causes them, and I firmly believe that if people with chronic pain don’t deal with their emotions about their pain, they will never get better.”
So not only do the emotions in the rest of our lives affect our pain, but the emotions we feel about our pain affect it as well. It’s a frustrating feedback loop: emotions lead to pain, which causes emotions, which lead to pain and so on.
What can we do to break the cycle? My friend Susanne Spurlock, MSW, ACSW shared these strategies at a recent meeting of Lancaster General Health’s Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Awareness and Education Group. My comments are in parentheses.
- Optimism (the glass may be half empty, but it can be refilled)
- Help others (volunteering, interacting positively on social media especially pain or condition-related groups)
- Journaling (start one or pick your dormant journal up and write)
- Laughter, Fun, Play, Jokes (funny movies or TV shows are a good place to start)
- Verbal detox (appropriate expression of emotion with friends, family or a professional)
- Socializing (even just a phone call to a friend works)
- Exercising (be sure to choose something you find fun!)
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (or another type of professional counseling)
- Yoga, especially gentle or restorative classes
- Meditation (even simply deep breathing for a few intentional quiet moments)
My advice is to first pick one of these strategies that you aren’t already doing. Then incorporate it into your life in a way that’s both meaningful and appropriate to your pain levels. Once you’ve gotten comfortable with the new strategy, choose another.
So let’s say you haven’t been spending much time with friends lately. Call a supportive and loving friend and suggest a get-together. It can be a cup of tea or coffee at home, or even out at a local café. Reach out to plan something every week or two.
Or try a yoga podcast at home. Here’s an example from Kelly at Sunrose Yoga that I’m going to try this week. Once you get comfortable with a bit of yoga at home, maybe a class near you would be a good option.
See how this works? It’s all baby steps forward. There’s no pressure or stress to the process because the idea is to reduce stress and manage emotions and pain. So be easy with yourself as you try these strategies to break the cycle of pain and emotions.