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What to do when emotional pain keeps causing physical pain

Have you ever felt an overwhelming sadness… which caused your entire body to ache?

Or felt a crushing sense of despair that kept you from being able to sleep? Or a constant dull throbbing in your head that made you sick to your stomach?

The truth... Unresolved emotional pain can cause physical problems?

Why?

Because when you are stressed or 'stuck' in an emotion, your body 'shuts down' your immune system. leading to increased pain

 That's why In this article, I'm going to show you how to heal emotional trauma and improve your quality of life.

Ready to dive in... 

Recently, scientists discovered a chemical in the brain called Endocannabinoids

These chemicals are the pain police. And their job is to stop you from whatever painful activity you were doing to prevent further injury. 

But there is a problem. 

Too much of these pain police chemicals will cause your body to get desensitized to pain.

You see, this lack of pain sensitivity is the cause of the explosion of chronic fibromyalgia cases. These pain police chemicals are usually all over the body. But in fibromyalgia, they become overcrowded in the immune cells.

And when there are enough pain police chemicals, they make you feel good. When there are not enough, pain starts to become unbearable. But when they are too much... They make you feel so good that you don't notice when you're pushing your body to dangerous limits.

This is why fibromyalgia patients are more susceptible to stress and painful stimuli.

The good news is that scientists have found a way to restore the body's sensitivity.

Giving people anandamide gave them back the ability to manage their pain better. Anandamide is a natural form of the pain police chemical. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20852626/

Now how does this relate to you?

You see, you may not have access to anandamide, but wouldn't it be lovely to feel euphoria instead of constant pain.

It turns out that there are things you can do to produce adequate levels of pain police chemicals in your body. So next... 

I will reveal all the common obstacles and mistakes that can deplete you of these chemicals. 

Then I will take you through a step by step process to ensure that you will always have enough of the chemicals to live a pain-free life.

The No 1 reason why you've got to develop pain awareness!

If you don't learn to manage your pain better, it can lead to a medical condition called "chronic pain syndrome".

This is a condition where your pain will not get better no matter what you do. There may be an occasional break, but then the pain will return to high levels again.

Can you relate to these types of pain?

Acute pain:
This happens suddenly and quickly and leaves almost immediately. It's like the "needle prick" of discomfort we all get from time to time. Usually, this pain will subside after a few hours, a day or even less. Acute pain doesn't last forever, and it's not agonizing. It's something that fades away and is often forgotten by the person.

Chronic pain: Chronic pain is pain that continues or persists over longer than 3 months. This can be caused by disease, injury, mental/emotional stress and more. It is very real and very common. 

Psychogenic pain: Psychogenic pain is a condition in which a person feels intense pain that any type of physical examination cannot explain. It is thought to be caused by psychological factors. You experience numbness, tingling or discomfort in your limbs without any signs of injury or disease. 

Next, let's explore some body systems that play a big part in helping you manage your pain better. 

The role of your body chemicals in pain management:

As already highlighted, your body has several different chemicals that play a major role in your sense of well-being. 

 

Another one of these chemicals is called endorphin. When you are in pain, your body makes a pain-relief drug called endorphins.

 The result is a natural high feeling which can last for hours. But, If your body's less able to produce endorphins, you will experience a physical and emotional drain and become more vulnerable to stress and a host of other problems.

4 Common problems that stop your body from producing pain management chemicals

1. Poor nutrition: Your body needs certain vitamins and minerals to function properly. Vitamin B12 and zinc are two of the most important ones.

2. Medical problems: Can lead to an overgrowth of yeast or other types of fungi or bacteria in your body. This interferes with the proper functioning of your endorphin glands, thereby promoting pain. 

3. Stress: It's challenging to produce endorphin boosting hormones when you're stressed. Plus, chronic stress can cause a build-up of acid in your body, making it hard for your endorphin glands to do their job

4. Mental/emotional problems: Including anxiety disorders, fear, anger, and various other "negative" emotions. All of these types of emotions interfere with the effective production of endorphins

Next, we move on to discuss the part your brain plays in helping you manage pain better

Neuroplasticity and its impact on pain management 

Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain and nervous system to adapt to its environment.

It is important for learning and memory formation and is a powerful asset for survival.  

In pain management, neuroplasticity often promotes a variety of complex negative relationships in the way our brain learns to manage both physical and emotional pain...

Here are a few examples of these complex relationships...

Complex relationship 1- Reciprocal conditioning:

If you associate physical pain with emotional pain, your brain can start to believe that emotional pain is the source of all physical pain. 

This type of association is known as reciprocal conditioning. And It can make your brain think emotional pain is more dangerous than physical pain; as such, your brain will begin to focus more on the emotional pain.

Complex relationship 2- Learned helplessness: 

Physical pain reminds us that something is wrong with our bodies. Emotional pain reminds us that something is wrong with our mental or emotional state.

Over time the mind and body get so intertwined that the experience of the other almost always accompanies the experience of one. If this relationship is triggered too often, it can lead to a psychological "break" in our emotional responses.

This break is called learned helplessness, and it develops if you believe that nothing you do has any effect on the pain. You feel helpless and hopeless and could even become suicidal.

Complex relationship 3- Addiction coping habits: 

Some people see physical experiences as a way of dealing with emotional distress. Various physical experiences are used to get through life while avoiding pain.

Drugs, alcohol, sex, and workaholism are included in this. The problem with this way of getting through life is that it doesn't solve anything. Instead, it creates lots of new problems. 

Complex relationship 4- Psychological "brick walls": 

We develop a psychological immune system that protects us from pain. These are psychological "brick walls" that keep us from being overly affected by negative emotions. 

If you have whiplash from a car accident, your neck will hurt for a while. But then, after that initial pain, you will become less and less sensitive to the whiplash. In other words, you developed a psychological brick wall that protects you from future emotional pain.

The same is true of many people who have survived abuse. They build a brick wall around the pain. But sadly, this brick wall stops the brain from processing the experiences. As such it can often lead on to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the future.

Complex relationship 5- Pain tolerance: 

Due to constantly associating physical pain with emotional pain, patients eventually develop a condition called pain tolerance.

If you subject someone with pain tolerance to more pain, they will numb the pain. Because of this, Pain tolerance can sometimes be a good thing. As it can enable you to carry on living your life fruitfully. 

However, If you get used to the emotional and physical pain, you won't know when you are pushing yourself beyond what your body can handle.

How can you use neuroplasticity to improve your brain's ability to manage pain?

As already stated...

Neuroscience is the ability of your brain to change in response to experiences.

The cortex is the outermost layer of the brain that is involved with higher mental functions. When it comes to pain, the cortex helps us to see the bigger picture. If you have the right knowledge, you can influence your cortex to help improve pain management.

 Would you like to know how? Please read on... 

The role of your prefrontal cortex in pain management:

The prefrontal cortex is a small part of the brain behind the forehead. It is believed to be necessary for judgment and impulse control. It is thought to help us manage our feelings and behaviour. 

The prefrontal cortex is the CEO of the brain. It helps us make smart decisions and deal with difficult situations. When it comes to managing pain, the prefrontal cortex is essential.

The part of the brain interprets what we are feeling as physical pain telling our body that something harmful is happening. 

The prefrontal cortex then sends out signals that stop the pain by making us feel tired, relax or go to sleep. It also sends out other signals that cause us to move or change position to ease the discomfort. This part of the brain makes it possible for us to get through the day without constant suffering.

4 Common mistakes that kill off your prefrontal cortex's effectiveness at managing pain

1. When you deny or ignore physical pain, your prefrontal cortex is unable to do its job.

2. When you only focus on the negative aspects of your pain, it is the same as when you only focus on the positives.

3. Many people try to treat their pain with drugs, heat, ice, massage, or other "quick fixes".

This causes more damage than the original problem because it keeps your brain and body in a hyper-alert state, leading to chronic pain. It also interferes with your ability to cope with pain effectively.

4. Trying to tough out your pain instead of finding an acceptable solution. If you do this, you are causing more physical discomfort and more emotional pain. And, you are making it much more difficult for your brain and body to deal with the pain.

The role of your somatosensory cortex in pain management:

Understanding how the somatosensory cortex works can help you learn new ways to cope with physical pain.

The somatosensory cortex is one of the four main regions of your brain. It is located on the top of your brain behind your forehead. 

The function of this region is to process information from the five senses. Interpretation and processing information from your sense of touch, taste, smell, and sight.

It is sometimes described as the "touch" centre of the brain. 

When we experience physical pain, this brain area becomes more active. It tends to cause a variety of physical reactions, such as headaches and muscle tension.

3 Common mistakes that intensify the sensitivity of your somatosensory cortex... Leading to increased levels of distress

1. When you hold on to anger, it creates an emotional wound in your brain that causes your pain to intensify.

2. Most people don't have any training in accepting things out of their control.

Dwelling on negative thoughts about what is happening to you instead of focusing on what you can do to improve the situation. This creates an inner dialogue that makes the physical sensations of your pain even more intense.

3. Holding on to guilt is similar to an emotional hangover from a previous event. If you don't let go of the guilt, it will continue to haunt you and cause you more pain. The same is true for any other negative feelings you have about your pain source. 

The role of your cingulate cortex in pain management:

The cingulate cortex is the part of the brain that helps you identify and control your emotions. It is part of the limbic system, an emotional center of the brain.

The cingulate cortex helps regulate your stress response and can be referred to as the survival brain. When it works well, the cingulate cortex makes sure we don't do things that will harm us or others.

When it malfunctions, it can lead to impulsive or destructive behaviours. Unfortunately, too much stress causes your cingulate cortex to malfunction. Sadly this means there are almost infinite ways for your cingulate cortex to go haywire, and here are a few......

4 Common problems that cause your cingulate cortex to malfunction

 1. Negative thinking can cause an emotional wound in your brain. This can cause your pain to become more intense. 

2. When you have unresolved trauma and dwell on negative parts of that experience, this can make your pain even more intense. This creates mental junk that robs you of your energy and keeps you fully engaged in the moment. 

3. Too much focus on the future can cause the cingulate cortex to view present pain as a preview of future pain.

4. Stress eating causes cortisol, which affects the cingulate cortex. Eating due to stress can lead to weight gain an increased risk for diabetes. This will increase your cortisol levels. Cortisol in the body makes it difficult to process and feel emotion.

The biopsychosocial approach to pain management 

Hopefully, by now, you will agree with me that... The thoughts you think about something influences what you do about it.

You may have an emotional reaction that makes you angry or sad. This can affect your ability to make rational decisions.

The same thing is true with your health. What you believe about your health can impact how well you recover. The way you see yourself is connected to the chemical changes that occur in your body.

Defining biopsychosocial factors: 

The biopsychosocial approach combines biological, psychological, and social factors into a single model. It helps us understand how these factors influence our health and wellness.

Examples of biopsychosocial factors in your life could include 

Biological Factors Affecting Pain Management: 

1. Genetics: Genetics plays a role in determining how well we respond to pain. Some people seem to have a genetic makeup that makes them resistant to pain better than others. This could explain why some people seem to have low- pain thresholds.

2. Endorphin levels: Our brains produce endorphins (natural opiates) when in pain. The more we have, the less we feel pain. 

3. Receptors: Our perception of pain is connected to our brain and spinal cords. When these receptors are activated, they send a message to our brain, resulting in pain.

Psychological Factors Affecting Pain Management:

1. Fear - Fear of pain increases the pain sensations you experience.

2. Helplessness - When people feel like they don't control their environment, they become passive and give up trying to change things. This attitude makes them more vulnerable to pain, and less likely to cope effectively.

3. Reality - People with a strong belief in the reality of an event tend to cope better with it than people who do not. If a person believes that an operation will cure his cancer, he will be less afraid of the surgery and experience less post-operative pain.

Social Factors Affecting Pain Management: 

1. Relationships: People who have family and friends supporting them are likely to recover faster. Social support lowers a person's feelings of isolation.

2. Role Modelling: People we observe impact how we cope. Children who see their parents overcome obstacles are more likely to develop inner strength.

3. Religion: People who hold religious beliefs are more likely to cope with pain. Beliefs about a higher power or God can give people a sense of control and purpose in their lives. It can also help reduce feelings of helplessness and the perception of pain.

Cognitive & Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for successful pain management 

So far, we've established that when someone experiences physical pain, they also experience emotional pain.

Physical pain can evoke a variety of feelings. The physical pain tends to evoke strong feelings of discomfort, depression and anxiety.

Quite often, the psychological distress from these negative emotions is so great that it becomes very difficult for the person experiencing them to cope with the physical pain they are trying to get rid of.

Managing your emotions and stopping them from making your pain worse is where CBT shines. As such, you'll find it easier to deal with the physical pain if you use CBT to manage it. This will result in a faster recovery.

Combining the power of CBT and the Biopsychosocial Model to accelerate pain management.

How to Use CBT to manage biological factors that can make your pain worse:

1. Managing your Blood flow:

If there isn't enough blood flow, your body will send pain signals to your brain. People with anxiety and panic attacks have insufficient blood circulation.

By learning a few simple breathing techniques, you can improve your blood circulation.

If you want to improve your blood flow using CBT, you should sit against the seat of a chair. Place both of your hands on your chest over your heart. Inhale slowly through your nose for a count of four.

Hold your breath for a count of seven. Exhale slowly through your nose for a count of seven. Repeat this cycle ten times or until your heart rate has returned to normal.

If you do this several times a day, you will notice an improvement in your blood circulation in a week.

3. Managing serotonin levels: 

Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects our moods, has been linked to depression.

The brain releases dopamine when we are in pain. The excess dopamine causes us to feel less sensitivity to pain. Too little serotonin disrupts this function, making us sensitive to pain.

To improve your serotonin levels using CBT, try this: 

Start by accepting the fact that your serotonin levels are a little low. And that is why you feel low, irritable, dizzy and in pain.

Not because you are somehow useless and cannot stop yourself from feeling terrible. Not accepting this will work against anything else you try to do.

Then, begin regular exercise to increase the presence of endorphins in your brain.

Make sure you get at least 30 minutes per day of moderate exercise. You can also find activities you enjoy doing and do them often to keep yourself feeling good. And lastly, spend time with people who lift you up, not tear you down. 

4. Managing Cortisol levels:

Cortisol is a hormone that helps the body cope with stress. However, too much cortisol decreases the immune system's ability to fight off disease.

This means that our bodies are more vulnerable to getting sick when we are stressed out. When we get sick, our bodies create additional cortisol which causes even more pain. 

To improve your cortisol levels using CBT, try this: 

Learn what stress is and how it affects you.

Take note of different experiences in your life that increase your stress levels (work, dealing with money problems, arguments with your partner or spouse, trying to have a baby, etc.).

Next, write down all the things you can do to decrease your stress level. It could be something as simple as taking a walk or doing some push-ups or sit-ups. Also, do fun things! Then try your best to mingle stressful things you must do with things that help you feel less stressed.

Finally, assess the results of your efforts using biofeedback dots. If you managed to keep your stress level low, this mean you would have found a system that works really well for you. 

5. Managing muscle tone: 

Muscle tone impacts the experience of pain in the body in several ways. First, tight muscles tend to pull on stretched out muscles.

This can cause a constant "nagging" sensation. When muscles are tense, they don't allow free movement of joints. This tension can cause chronic joint stiffness.

This makes everyday tasks like getting up from a chair or lying down to go to sleep extremely painful. Thirdly, It is possible to trap nerves and cause a "pins and needles" type feeling. 

To improve your muscle tone using CBT, try this: 

Use positive self-talk to help you concentrate on the positive aspects of your body. (Think about what you like about your body) .

Do progressive relaxation (tense and then relax each part of your body in turn). If you find it hard to sleep, don't fight it.

During the day, walk around the block, do some stretching exercises. Use graded exposure to push yourself to do physical tasks.

Especially tasks that cause you pain, and remember to pace yourself. If you want to prevent blood from pooling in your limbs, you have to get up and move around every half hour or so.

How to use CBT to manage psychological factors that can make your pain worse:

As discussed earlier, some psychological factors can make physical pain worse. These include fear, helplessness, thinking patterns, and more. Here are some steps that can be taken to manage the psychological factors of pain.

Step 1. Observe -

Pay attention to what you are feeling and pay attention to what is happening around you. Notice how you are feeling and notice what is happening around you. Note down your feelings and any other thoughts or ideas that occur to you. Just being aware of your feelings and your environment will begin to take the emotion out of experiencing pain.

Step 2. Describe -

Once you have identified and observed your painful feelings, it's time to start labelling them. Tell yourself it is "I feel depressed about having arthritis" or "I am in pain because my back is injured" or whatever.  Once you have labelled your feelings, it becomes much easier to cope with them.

Step 3. Challenge-

The next step after you have identified your feelings is to challenge them. Negative self-talk is what causes painful feelings. "I'll never be able to play sports again" or "I'll always be fat" are some of the lies that we tell ourselves.

Step 4. Re-frame - 

After you have challenged and re-framed your negative thoughts... It's time to replace your negative thoughts with positive ones. For example, you can say... "Well, it looks like I'll never be able to play professional basketball but, that doesn't mean I'm worthless".

Step 5. Accept - 

Now that you have identified, labelled, and replaced the negative thoughts and feelings. It is time to practice acceptance. You have to accept that life on this earth is NOT going to be perfect. Sometimes things simply won't work out the way we want them to, and there will always be obstacles. The goal of these steps is to replace our negative, hopeless feelings with positive more ones.

Using CBT to manage social factors that can make your pain worse:

1. Role models: 

Sometimes social role models teach us that pain is something to be ashamed of and hide from others. But, if you hide your pain all the time, it will cause you to do things that produce a weakened immune system. And make you more vulnerable to illness and infections. 

It can cause you to become addicted to drugs and other addictive activities to numb the pain.

To develop healthier reactions to social role models using CBT, try this: 

Don't focus on your flaws, and observe and acknowledge your positive qualities. Replace self-criticism with self-acceptance.

Think of your social role models as an example to follow, not an authority to obey. Realize that everyone makes mistakes, even the most admired people. Learn to laugh at yourself and your mistakes instead of dwelling on them. Seek out positive role models instead of avoiding them.

2. Relationships: 

The need to be needed and significant can cause you to be in bad relationships. Relationships that don't meet your need for significance can lead to depression and loneliness.

We may try to compensate by going to extreme lengths to please others. But this causes us to sacrifice our health and power. And this may lead to a lack of self-care and a decreased ability to deal with pain.

To get more support from your relationships using CBT, try this: 

Be honest with yourself, your partner, friends or family members about the pain in your relationship. Be clear about what you expect from them.

If you think that you are giving too much of yourself and not looking after your health care needs... be open about it. Practice being compassionate, affectionate but also practice being assertive regularly.

When hurting after arguments, give each other a chance to apologize.

Make sure there is a good balance between you listening and talking. Never assume your relationships are "fine". And instead, set time aside to foster care and understanding. And put in the time and effort to find common grounds you both share.

3. Lack of belonging: 

People who feel like they don't belong are more likely to feel lonely and isolated. A part of your brain called the "medial prefrontal cortex" is activated by social support.

When you don't receive social support, this part of your brain produces less serotonin, leading to more sensitivity to pain. 

To improve your sense of belonging using CBT, try this: 

Find out about other people's interests and hobbies. Ask questions to find out how others feel about the same things you do.

This will open up opportunities to have conversations about shared experiences. Shared experiences create a bond between people. Going through the same thing together deepens your relationship.

And It makes you more likely to understand what each other is going through. You can also do things with others you enjoy, even if they don't share the same interests.

Consider activities that are not competitive but that offer mutual support. Go to ballgames together, join a book club, volunteer together at a shelter or a hospital. Or you can join an organization that shares your goals. 

4. Occupation: 

The stress of work can cause your body to make more cortisol. Cortisol causes inflammation when it is produced in excess.

Chronic pain and arthritis can be caused by inflammation over time. In the case of an injury, a healthy adult should not have inflammation and it should be short-lived.

People who are constantly under stress at work are more likely to have long-term inflammation in their system, making them feel worse.

To reduce work-based stress using CBT, try this: 

Start with acceptance: You cannot eliminate stress, but you can learn to accept stress as a fact of life. You have to stop fighting it and trying to change it.

Remember that what you focus on expands. So, Instead of focusing on the negatives, which only makes it more real, focus on the positives. Also, remind yourself that everything you experience is temporary.

Don't get caught up in the details or the significance of what is happening to you. Yes, it is happening now... but it won't last forever.

Next, make sure to prepare for success instead of preparing for failure. This will give you a sense of forward movement and momentum. Finally, when things go wrong, don't dwell on the problem. Find the solution and move on.

5. Expectations: In most cases, pain signals to stop whatever we are doing that is causing us discomfort.

Expectations in social settings can cause us to ignore the signals of pain our bodies send. Unrealistic expectations in social settings can cause chronic fatigue syndrome.

 To develop healthy reactions to social expectations using CBT, Try this: 

Retrain your brain to stop automatically reacting with shame, and negative self-evaluation. CBT can help you become more mindful and less judgmental about social expectations.

You will often see a hidden positive intention behind many of the things people say and do. You won't need to evaluate everything through the lens of whether or not it fits into your beliefs. And This will allow you to live in the moment instead of living your life through the lens of what is expected of you.

How to Turn Your Broken Pieces into the raw material for a spectacular life!

Most of us have had some kind of pain in our lives. Whether it was the loss of a loved one, a broken heart, the death of a pet, a painful divorce or the loss of a job, these events leave an indelible imprint on our psyches. We carry that emotional baggage with us everywhere we go. It colours our attitudes, our expectations, and even our relationships. The result is that we often find ourselves...

Trapped By Our Limitations!

But guess what? Even if you've suffered terrible pain in the past, you do not have to suffer mentally or emotionally... Because now...

You Have The POWER To Change Your Reality!

Ending section:

What I want to impress upon you here is this… Every problem you have ever faced, no matter how seemingly unsolvable… Has Actually Given You Something Extra Important To Learn!

What is that lesson?

The truth is that pain is a necessary ingredient in the stew of life.

It tells you where you have no real control, It points out where you are going wrong and causing yourself more damage, and it serves as a wake-up call to get your butt in gear. Pain is useful.

It pushes you out of your comfort zone and makes you stronger. In the long run, pain stop being your problem when you learn to master it.

And hopefully, from today's article, you've got all the tools to master your pain and use it as a springboard for growth and success.

 

 

 

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Written by Adewale Ademuyiwa
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