When Emotional Pain Turns Physical
Life is full of emotional rollercoasters and overwhelming feelings. You know what feelings I’m talking about. When you’re sad, depressed, angry, guilty; all the not-so-good feelings. Some days you wake up feeling on top of the world, others you are in the dumps. Often times we go through periods where these overwhelming feelings are constant and soon feel like they are a part of you and your life. The longer you hang on to these feelings and are exposed to this emotional pain, the more your brain produces a dependency to latch onto those feelings. This is the point where all the emotional pain you are feeling has effects on your physical health. Chronic pain is defined as physical pain that lasts for a prolonged period of time, longer than the expected healing process. Chronic pain is ongoing feelings that debilitate one’s ability to function normally on a day to day basis. Those dealing with chronic pain find it hard to move with ease as it is often accompanied by feelings of hopelessness, depression and anxiety. Physical symptoms of emotional stress include headaches, stomachaches and irritable bowel syndrome.
Feelings as Chronic Pain
Sadness is an emotion that is typically sparking from a situation of loss and disappointment. When being sad starts to last for more than two weeks it starts to convert into a condition called depression, which impacts not only the mind but the body on a day to day basis. It is very common for those with depression to complain of fatigue, headache, or chest pain.
Anger is a natural human emotion. In the body, when your brain triggers emotions of anger it releases physical responses such as the release of adrenaline due to its natural “fight or flight” response. The release of adrenaline in the body causes physical effects such as an increase in heart rate, speed of breathing, and tension. Not coping with this anger can lead to feelings of resentment and long-term physical effects on the body such as chronic headaches.
Anxiety, fear or worry bring about many of the same physical responses in the body. Anxiety contributes to the “flight” response in “fight or flight.” When feelings of anxiety come about emotions of uncertainty or an inability to relax. Long term effects of not coping with anxiety properly and sourcing out its causes include the onset of panic attacks. A panic attack is defined by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America as “the abrupt onset of intense discomfort that reaches peak within minutes and includes at least four of the following symptoms:”
- Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
- Trembling or shaking
- Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
- Feelings of choking
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint
- Chills or heat sensations
- Paresthesia (numbness or tingling sensations)
- Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
- Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
- Fear of dying
Not dealing with anxiety and its traumas produces some of the most intense physical chronic pain.
Shame & Guilt
Shame and guilt are those feelings when you have when your feeling resentment toward yourself for an action or situation. Some describe its physical effects as “knots”, other as “butterflies”, and a feeling of “weight in the stomach.” Shame and guilt are common among people with addiction. Shame is triggered and made worse by situations of secrecy.
Individuals at Higher Risk for Emotional Pain becoming Physical
Chronic pain is highly linked to stress and emotional issues. Stress in the body is onset by the feelings listed above. For many of these feelings, they are induced by some sort of trauma.
People who have experienced severe trauma and are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are at higher risk to develop chronic pain. A whopping 15 to 30 percent of patients with chronic pain also have PTSD.
Highly sensitive individuals, who make up 20 to 30 percent of the population, are also at a higher risk to develop chronic pain if they are internalizing their feelings. They experience feelings more intensely and oftentimes, due to the fact that they are overwhelming, have a hard time learning how to manage emotions, and internalize these feelings.
Any time we as humans think we are minimizing our emotions by putting off feelings and these behaviors we are really just amplifying them. The human body has interesting ways of telling us when we need to work on ourselves, listen to it.