There are many ways in which we can feel pain. Although we tend to assume pain is physical, it can often be emotional.
Can life pain be a good thing? Pain isn’t all negative!
It can be a way for us to pay better attention to our bodies and emotions.
Let’s take a look at pain and how it manifests in the body. We’ll also feature tips on how to treat and manage it so you don’t have to suffer because of it any longer.
Understanding Physical Pain
There are different types of physical pain. Let’s take a look at them.
This is pain that doesn’t last for a long time but it’s intense. Since it activates the body’s fight-or-flight mechanism, acute pain can result in faster breathing and heart rates.
Acute pain can take one of three forms:
- Somatic pain. This is when pain is felt on the skin or soft tissues located below the skin.
- Visceral pain. This is pain that stems from internal organs or the linings of cavities inside the body.
- Referred pain. This pain is felt in an area of the body that’s not the actual source of the pain. So, you might feel pain in your shoulder or jaw when you’re having a heart attack.
This is pain that can last for a long time, and it can be either mild or intense. Sometimes the pain is constant, such as in the case of arthritis, but it can also come and go.
Interestingly, fight-or-flight responses to the pain will stop after a while because the sympathetic nervous system gets used to the pain. Often, chronic pain doesn’t have a cure, but it can be managed.
How Is Physical Pain Treated?
Acute pain is usually treated with the use of medication because the pain is as a result of an underlying health condition.
Examples of pain medication include opioids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and acetaminophen.
Chronic pain can be treated and managed in a variety of ways. Sometimes alternative treatments can be more appropriate for people who have chronic pain as compared to medications.
These treatments include the following:
- Nerve blocks. These are injections that numb some nerves to prevent pain.
- Acupuncture. This is the use of fine needles that are placed on pressure points in the body to release endorphins, which are its own pain-killing chemicals.
- Psychotherapy. Since chronic pain can decrease your happiness and lead to conditions such as depression, psychotherapy can help.
- Surgery. There are many types of surgeries that can be done on the spine, nerves, and brain to treat chronic pain.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). This activates the body’s pain and opioid systems to provide relief from pain.
- Biofeedback. This is a mind-body technique that trains you to control your body’s processes, such as your heart rate, with thoughts.
- Relaxation therapies. Examples include massage therapy, hypnosis, tai chi, and meditation. A study found that over time meditation causes changes to the cortical thickness in some regions of the brain, and this helps to make you less sensitive to pain.
- Physiotherapy. Depending on the type of chronic pain you have, a physio can help to relieve your pain by manipulating tension from the back.
- Rest. If the chronic pain has been caused by an injury, then rest can help. In addition, the use of heat and cold packs can provide relief to the area that’s been affected.
Understanding Emotional Pain
Emotional pain is also known as psychic pain, soul pain, and mental pain. It can manifest in a variety of ways, such as distress, loneliness, isolation, deep sorrow, grief, worthlessness, shame, rage, and panic.
Emotional pain can result in physical symptoms whose causes might not be identified easily. These physical symptoms include dizziness, nausea, headaches, stomach aches, and muscle pain.
There are, however, various sources of emotional pain, such as shame and guilt, anxiety, and anger that hasn’t been expressed.
Emotional Vs. Physical Pain
Both physical and emotional pain share some neurological similarities, as they’re both linked to changes in the cingulate cortex and prefrontal cortex in the brain.
They tend to overlap a lot because although some pain is physical and other pain is completely emotional, often pain is somewhere between the two: it can be physical and emotional.
For example, it’s been found that between 75 and 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are as a result of stress-related problems.
How To Treat Emotional Pain
If emotional pain has a physical source, then treating the physical condition or problem can help to alleviate the emotional pain.
If you have a psychological condition that’s causing the emotional symptoms, such as anxiety or depression, treatment can include medication, psychotherapy, or both.
There are alternative treatments that can help you to alleviate emotional pain, such as hypnosis, acupuncture, yoga, Tai chi, and meditation.
Exercise has been found to improve your mood, so it can be a useful way to deal with emotional pain. Similarly,
mindfulness is also a useful way to deal with emotional pain. This is because it helps you to concentrate on the present moment.
You’re both aware of the emotions that surface while also being able to witness them as they pass through your mind instead of getting attached to them.
How To Embrace Pain
Dealing with pain can be stressful, and sometimes emotional pain can be even more distressing because it’s not always easy to find a physical source for it.
You can’t simply take pain medication or antibiotics to treat it as you would for physical pain. You might have the tendency to avoid your emotional pain, but this won’t make it go away for good.
Dealing with your emotional pain is the only way to manage it and eliminate it. Here are some tips to bear in mind.
- Learn to sit with your emotions. Instead of avoiding your feelings, it’s better to sit with them. Take a deeper look at what you’re feeling and try to explore why you’re feeling it. For example, maybe you’re feeling sad because your friend ignored you on social media, or you’re feeling anxious because your friend got a promotion and you’re feeling left behind or like a failure. Get to the bottom of the feelings and be aware of how the emotions play out. For example, maybe they make you want to cry or they make your chest feel tight. Tell yourself it’s okay to go through the process – it’s healing!
- Practice mindfulness. Sometimes you might deal with emotions and negative thoughts only for them to come back. A good way to deal with these situations properly is to step back and be mindful of the emotions instead of wallowing in them. For example, you could tell yourself, “Right, the negative thoughts about the fight I had with my friend are coming back and I feel angry/sad again.” Then, it can be useful to try to calmly direct your attention elsewhere, such as to your breathing, so that you focus on the moment.
- See your pain as being valuable. It’s easy to think that your painful emotions and thoughts are negative, but there are actually opportunities for growth inside them. Those feelings you don’t want to deal with can actually be trying to send you messages! For example, fear can motivate you to increase your safety or set boundaries, resentment can be a sign you need to change something in your friendship or romantic relationship, and anxiety can be a sign that you need to focus more on your wellbeing. See how you can benefit from what you feel.
- Add kindness to your awareness. If you do mindfulness on a regular basis, during which you become aware of your feelings and thoughts, adding kindness to this mindfulness is a great way to feel more self-compassion, which will improve your psychological health. To boost your self-compassion, imagine that you’re sitting with your best friend who’s going through a tough time with their uncomfortable feelings. Think about what you’d tell them and how you would listen. You’d be kind to them. Now, flip the situation around and imagine what the person who’s giving you compassion would do or say. This helps you to be that caring, supportive best friend to yourself.
Should You Avoid Pain?
Although embracing pain is important to help you deal with it and perhaps even eliminate it, there are times when it might serve you well to avoid pain.
Sometimes, when you’re dealing with pain, you can actually make it worse by worrying about it. When you stress about pain, this causes your muscles to tense up, which increases your sensation of pain.
In addition, when you are stressed, this increases the cortisol hormone in your body. Known as the “stress hormone,” it causes pain and inflammation.
Focusing on your pain too much can cause you to notice the painful sensations more, which can cause you to feel more stressed out about them. The result is an unproductive cycle of anxiety and pain!
It’s useful to distract yourself from the pain, such as by giving your attention to a task or activity that takes your mind off it for a while.
This is not about pretending the pain isn’t there or not doing something productive, like getting medication to treat your migraines so that you don’t suffer from them or getting therapy to help you to deal with an anxiety disorder, but it can take your focus elsewhere so that you better manage the pain.
Healthy examples of ways to distract yourself from pain include writing, reading, walking, giving yourself a massage, and meditating.
Is Guided Therapy Good For Pain Management?
An example of a technique you can use during meditation to help you deal with pain is guided imagery.
It involves imagining a world for yourself that’s happy and peaceful. When you immerse yourself into this imagined world that feels good, you focus on what you would see, hear, touch, and feel in this place. It brings you into the moment and provides you with healing imagery.
Research has found that seven studies confirmed guided imagery as being a useful mechanism for treating pain, while providing positive effects on mobility, anxiety, and psychological well being.
Guided imagery also helps you to envision pain leaving your body, and this gives you relief from it. The process calms the sympathetic nervous system, which slows down the body’s “fight or flight” response.
This helps to decrease your stress by boosting your overall health. One of the reasons why guided imagery works well to reduce pain is because it helps you to get in tune with the stillness of your mind and use the body’s relaxation response so that you adjust the messages that your brain sends you about the pain.
Where can you find guided imagery resources?
The Taking Charge website provides you with a range of useful guided imagery resources you should try.
Does music alleviate pain?
Music has been found to relieve pain, with research showing that it can relieve pain during and after surgery as well as childbirth.
No one wants to feel pain and a lot of the information we receive about dealing with pain involves trying to outsmart and outrun it. But, as we’ve seen in this article, that isn’t always possible.
While some distraction from the pain can be good, it’s essential to face the pain head-on.
We’ve provided you with tips on how to better face and deal with your pain, whether it’s physical or emotional, so you don’t have to feel imprisoned by it.