Have you Noticed that Emotions can Amplify Pain?
I usually talk about my daughter Greta because she is the one with prominent chronic pain; however, today I will start out talking about Oliver. He is 16. Last week Oli and I we were talking about jobs he could apply for. His last job was as a server at a retirement home and, while he like it in some ways, he often felt anxious there and his back hurt from being on his feet carrying heavy things back and forth. He has an old trampoline injury to his back that flares up sometimes.
Anyhow, when we talked about the possibility of him working at the retirement home again he said, “My back starts to hurt even when we are talking about it!” Can you believe that? Just thinking about working there again ACTUALLY made his back hurt!!!!! We were both shocked at how obvious the connection was between his anxiety and his back pain.
Greta’s pain can also quickly increase when she is anticipating something that she is anxious about. In fact, one trick she learned is to say no to everything until the last minute so that she doesn’t need to anticipate having to do it. Because the anticipation is often worse than the event itself.
Whether it is a growling bear, a nail in the foot, or a stressful thought, our brain perceives these things as threats and tries to protect us. However, our chronic pain brains have become overprotective and send pain signals too often. For even the tiniest bit of perceived stress.
Thoughts and emotions can be instrumental in turning the volume up or down on pain. It can be hard to see this connection when the pain is constant but the connection becomes more clear as the pain ebbs and flows.
This is a big reason why it is so important to find adequate mental health support and strategies for easing the nervous system. Often, good support in these areas can ease pain more than a lot of the other medications and treatments we have tried.
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