It seems hard not to link pain to emotional distress, doesn’t it? Who has never bumped their knee and got mad at the table for getting in the way? In addition to anger, we can also feel sad or anxious.
Now imagine that this pain is not transient, but lasts most of the time. It’s not hard to assume that an emotional malaise is associated with it, right? There are numerous studies on the influence of psychological factors on chronic pain. But, then, is it the emotional malaise that comes from chronic pain or vice versa?
Chronic pain and sadness
Even though we know that chronic pain and negative emotions are connected to each other, it is difficult to define this relationship exactly. We don’t know exactly how emotions affect the onset or escalation of pain, and we don’t know the role of pain when we experience negative emotions.
Chronic pain involves high levels of inability, so those affected have their lives compromised. This is also linked to emotional distress, so much so that this loss of functional capacity can cause high levels of sadness.
It has been found that the incidence of depression is higher in patients with chronic pain than in those who do not suffer from it. But not only that: sadness also predicts an increase in pain. Specifically, this emotion has been shown to be the strongest harbinger of pain in rheumatoid arthritis.
Chronic pain and anxiety
Chronic pain is not only associated with sadness or depression, it is also related to anxiety and anger. When it comes to anxiety, people suffering from chronic pain have been found to be the most anxious.
As with sadness, feeling anxious affects the experience of chronic pain. Basically, high levels of anxiety maintained over time lead to a predisposition to frequent episodes of pain. But not only that: the pain already present also worsens. This is how the pain becomes more pronounced and acute in patients with high levels of anxiety.
Sensitivity to anxiety also plays a major role. It is the fear of anxiety symptoms, linked to the belief that these will have harmful consequences on us. This factor affects both the onset and the continuation of chronic pain.
Chronic pain and anger
The role of anger in physical health has been studied on numerous occasions. There is evidence that experiencing and expressing it contributes to the onset and development of various psychosomatic diseases, such as heart disease or cancer.
The results indicate that chronic pain sufferers exhibit higher levels of anger and hostility than other people. Furthermore, the inner expression of anger is higher in these subjects. This means that they experience moments of anger that they do not express externally, but that manifest themselves in their internal dialogue through negative thoughts that are repeated continuously.
Chronic pain patients who tend to express anger in this way instead of “kicking it out” (external anger) or managing it properly (anger control) have higher levels of pain. However, even expressing anger can be harmful, as this behavior can ruin interpersonal relationships and reduce social support, which is essential.
For this reason, it is extremely important to intervene on the psychological level in patients with chronic pain. Adequate anger control and anxiety and sadness management strategies will not only increase your psychological well-being, but will also help you reduce the experience of pain.
Images courtesy of Cristian Newman and Ryan McGuire