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Is Chronic Pain Linked to Our Emotions?

When it comes to the topic of living with chronic pain, our focus is generally on its impact on the body. But chronic pain has the ability to affect — and be affected by — our emotions as well.

While the mind and body connection is not a new concept, it takes a lot for some individuals to discover where their pain is coming from or why it’s there. We often suffer from these aches and pains, try to ignore them, self-diagnose, and hope they go away. But, if linked to your emotional well-being, your chronic pain may be difficult to overcome.

How Emotions Turn to Physical Pain

Dr. Susanne Babbel, a psychologist specializing in trauma-induced depression, has delved into this connection between physical and emotional pain:

“Many people are already familiar with the fact that emotional stress can lead to stomach aches, irritable bowel syndrome, and headaches, but might not know that it can also cause other physical complaints and even chronic pain. One logical reason for this: studies have found that the more anxious and stressed people are, the tenser and constricted their muscles are, over time causing the muscles to become fatigued and inefficient.”

Traumatic Events & Pain

When faced with a traumatic event, the body’s nervous system goes into survival mode. After the event is over, the body may have difficulty reverting back to a normal, relaxed mode. If your body stays in survival mode, stress hormones remain elevated, as well as your blood pressure and blood sugar. This has a negative effect on the body’s immune system and prevents it from healing. When the body is in a state of constant distress, physical symptoms are bound to manifest.

Furthermore, new injuries have the potential to trigger past traumatic events. This ‘reliving the trauma’ effect brings additional pain sensations from the nervous system.

Managing the Psychological Impacts of Chronic Pain

No matter the circumstances under which your chronic pain manifests, it is undeniable that this pain can have a significant impact on your mental health. Many individuals living with chronic pain experience:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Decreased cognitive function
  • Insomnia and fatigue:
  • Sexual dysfunction

All of these factors contribute to a decline in quality of life. This can exacerbate the emotional aspects of living with daily pain. So, how can you manage these emotions? Your NSPC-affiliated pain specialist may recommend one or more of the following:

Cognitive Therapy

Working with a mental health professional, you will have the opportunity to talk about your feelings and fears. The goal is to raise your awareness of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can reframe those ideas and emotions to deal with them in a more positive and healthy way.


This technique helps you learn how to control your body’s reactions to pain and stress. By learning how to relax tight muscles and breathe deeply you can refocus your brain and gain greater control over your body’s reaction to pain.


Although it is often difficult to think of exercising while in pain, gentle body movement can be helpful and lead to the release of endorphins, the body’s “feel-good” hormones. Low-impact exercises, such as swimming, yoga, pilates, and stretching can be beneficial to the body and mind.

Massage Therapy

A soothing massage offers both physical and psychological benefits. It relieves muscle tension and stiffness and increases blood flow to encourage the healing of injured tissues. It also stimulates the release of endorphins to reduce stress and anxiety.


In some cases, prescription antidepressants, sleep medications, or anxiety medications may be appropriate. This is something you should discuss with your pain specialist, who may work with your primary care doctor to address your symptoms with medication.

Managing Your Chronic Pain

If you are ready to find relief for your chronic pain or are looking for help managing the psychological effects of your chronic pain, our network of physicians is determined to help. Find a location near you and schedule your first appointment today!

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