Emotions and pain affect each other
It’s probably no surprise that pain affects our emotions. But research also shows the opposite: our emotions can affect how we experience pain. So, it can be good to become aware of your feelings and learn to accept them.
Emotions have an important function for us humans. They both provide information about our experiences and also give us impulses to act.
Many different emotions can arise following a chronic diagnosis, depending on what happens in life and how the body feels. Experiencing symptoms, having just been diagnosed, undergoing a first relapse, or having lived with the diagnosis for a long time can all have different effects on emotional life.
The link between emotions and pain
Several scientific studies have shown that pain affects emotions and emotions affect pain. The mind and body are closely connected. This means that, for example, our symptoms and the feelings we have while we are experiencing them can interact.
A number of studies have examined the relationship between pain and how people feel emotionally. A study from 2017 in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found that the link between depression and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) goes in both directions. Pain from RA can aggravate depression, which in turn makes it more difficult to manage RA symptoms. This is partly because pain causes stress, and stress causes a release of chemicals that change our mood. When the mood changes, there is a domino effect. It is more difficult to sleep and stress levels can rise. Simply put, anxiety and depression seem to affect pain or make it harder to deal with pain. (2)
When the joints or other parts of the body hurt, you can experience emotions such as anger, depression, or anxiety. Positive thoughts, on the other hand, seem to reduce the experience of pain. Enjoying a nice view and drinking a cup of coffee can be soothing enough to feel a real effect.
How can I take control of my emotions?
No matter where you are on your emotional journey with your diagnosis, there are many ways to take care of your well-being. Getting to know your emotions and learning how to take care of them is an important step in feeling good. There is no way to deal with emotions that works for everyone. We all need to sit down, develop our own personal toolbox, and get to know which way works for us. (1)
A first step is to think about the following:
What emotions do you experience most often?
Is it easy for you to identify your feelings?
How do you handle your emotions?
In the book Heaven, Hell and Everything In Between - About Emotions, psychologist and psychotherapist Anna Kåver describes the importance of starting by becoming aware of what emotions you have and why. Self-esteem is largely based on the fact we know what triggers our unique emotional patterns and we accept that we have them. Once we have done that, life becomes easier to handle. We will always have feelings, but we can influence how they control our lives. (2)
When you feel an emotion, you can start by trying to be curious about it. Go on a journey of discovery. Observe your feelings and put them into words. How does it feel in your body?
What triggered this feeling? An event, someone else's behavior, or your own thoughts and imagination? What message does your feeling carry? What does it want you to do?
Then decide to just experience your feelings and remind yourself they are like the waves of the sea coming, culminating and ebbing out. Do not judge: emotions cannot be right or wrong, they just are. Most of the time, they are completely understandable based on the situation. Do not fight back.
Then ask yourself what you can and need to do in the situation you’re in, even though you feel the way you do. Go ahead with what you need to do. (3)
Kåver, A 2009, Himmel, helvete och allt däremellan – om känslor, Natur & Kultur Allmänlitteratur, s. 171.