Chronic pain and the emotions

Emotions are a completely normal experience of pain. And in high pain, it is normal to feel anger or sadness. This is because pain, in the brain, is in a circuit with our emotional center. Pain incites an emotional response. The last long stretch of brutal 9 level morning migraines had me feeling irritated and also just sad. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Chronic pain and emotions

Emotions and the brain

The emotional component of pain has recently received more attention in the scientific community. For example, a new definition of pain by the International Association for the Study of Pain describes it as an “unpleasant sensory and emotional experience.”

At the heart of the matter — or more precisely, the head — is that the brain has evolved a certain amount of overlap between its emotion and pain centers. This economy of design allows the brain to efficiently process a wide range of sensations, such as a bruised knee, a cut finger, anger, and sadness.

“The areas of our brain that are associated with sensory perception, they share real estate with the areas of our brain that are involved in the processing of emotions,” said Dr. Beth Darnall, a pain psychologist at Stanford University and author of Less Pain, Fewer Pills. –Healthline

From my experience with depression, I can say this emotional reaction took on a lot of Meaning. I wasn’t just sad because I was having extreme pain… I was sad because the pain is endless, then I was sadder because I had to endure this forever, and then I was in despair because my life was apparently to just suffer. I call it the sinkhole of depression or the infinity spiral of doom. Because we have a lot of thoughts about pain and then the pain gets intense and then we mix those thoughts with the emotions and down we spiral. Which was very common for me with depression. It would get severe with high pain. And I would have suicidal thoughts. And just a deep, dark despair.

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So we know pain has an emotional response. And this is suffering. There is physical pain and then there is the response to the pain that causes suffering. We cannot control the pain but sometimes we can dampen the suffering with our various coping strategies (like distraction or meditation or whatever works for you). But we cannot obliterate it. Nevertheless, it is the one thing we do have a smidge of control over. With depression, I depended a Lot on distraction. Because late at night, by myself, in that sort of horror level pain…. dark thoughts came. Hard.

But I want you to know it is possible to think of those emotions without attaching meaning to them.

“In other words, when we fight the pain: judge it, try to push it away, avoid it, ignore it, it actually triggers other painful emotions, resulting in more emotional pain.” We also never learn healthy ways to cope.

Sitting with our emotions simply means allowing them, resisting the urge to get rid of the pain and not judging ourselves for having these emotions, she said. Psychsentral

You can say:

  1. I am in pain it is normal to feel this emotion
  2. Emotions are normal with high pain and stress
  3. I do not need to think about it. Just feel it.
  4. Emotions are a normal human response. And I am only human.
  5. This emotion is fleeting. It will pass

Here are some tips for Psychology Today

That these emotions come with the pain but they are like a river. Every time you dip your toe in there is a new emotion. They pass even when the river is full of dangerous rapids. We just have to get through high pain in whatever way we can. But when I feel the emotions that come with it I tell myself it is normal to have them and that they will pass. And it is not tied to my beliefs or perception of pain. It is fleeting and a normal response. That reacting to anything has an emotional response. And this is the one I am feeling for perfectly legitimate reasons. And I tie no thoughts to that. It will pass. It is normal. I try to let it just be, without delving into it. Just sort of flit across the surface of it, feel it and know it will pass. And sometimes I fail and I feel so much more suffering. Coping with mood and emotions and pain isn’t easy for any of us. But just taking some deep relaxing breaths and trying to say to yourself what I have listed may help you cope with the emotions that occur. We are human. We are only human. Emotions and moods will come from such a powerful experience that is pain.

Now, this is not something for Major Depressive Disorder. That is a far more complicated beast. I think firmly we need assistance to guide us down that river. And sometimes medication, like I need.

And when it really gets to you remember our strategies

  • Self-care- the kind that just soothes you
  • Deep relaxing breathing to center yourself
  • Do something relaxing like an Epsom salt bath, colouring, or meditation if you can
  • Distraction to just stop those thoughts from compounding the emotions if you can
  • And sleep if necessary. When I get just horrible depths of emotion sometimes I just need to sleep it off. Reset.

What do you guys do when you are angry and in pain? Sad and in pain? What do you think about thinking about them differently? How do you maintain your mood overall from the fluctuations of pain in your life? How do you cope?

Other posts to check out about coping:

7 lies of chronic pain

6 chronic illness fears

6 reasons I masked emotion

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6 comments

  1. Yes I can agree with the intricate connection of pain and suffering and how they share a connection. But the US has filled peoples brains that the only way to cope is medication because it is a disease to be depressed. I feel that medication is the very last route after you jave tried all types of therapies and strategies. The brain is the greatest part of our bodies and there are ways to manipulate them and train them into thinking differently. What a great read.

    Liked by 2 people

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