Everybody knows that stress, bad moods, and depression can all cause pain; depression in particular can cause a person to feel lower back pain or generalised pain all over.
Among psychiatrists and psychologists, this mind-body connection has been known and studied for quite a while, and professionals in both fields have found that people who are good at regulating their emotions tend to be happier and more successful. Happier people also tend to feel less pain, or they are able to pay less attention to pain and continue on with their daily tasks.
We all use emotional regulation on a regular basis. But what is it? In general terms, it is a combination of the various conscious skills and unconscious processes and competences a person uses to manage, monitor, express and respond to emotion. People who have difficulty coping with their emotions or who haven’t learned the skills to appropriately express emotion will find that social situations become awkward, relationships become difficult to maintain, and depression can set in.
Pain can of course negatively affect your mood. Chronic pain especially can take over all aspects of your life to such an extent that activities that used to be pleasurable are now of no interest; furthermore, when you’re in pain, it is much harder to control negative feelings. When pain becomes an every day, constant feature, you’re much more likely to lash out inappropriately, to cry when the smallest things go wrong, or be grumpy even when you’re surrounded by happy people who are actively supportive of you and your situation.
This is where some additional learned skills in mood regulation may come in handy. Based on anecdotal evidence, pain relief practitioners claim that happy people will somehow gain the most benefit from pain relief therapies, while emotionally distressed people will find effective pain relief to be elusive. Some psychologists and psychiatrists maintain that cognitive behavioral therapy can not only instill new emotional regulation skills to help a person deal with the stress of pain, it can actually change how the brain functions, altering its ability to perceive pain.
In other words, when a person attentively learns new coping mechanisms with cognitive behavioral therapy, and adapts new strategies for emotional regulation, he or she is amplifying the body’s natural pain relief mechanisms.
Therefore, in many cases, a person who is feeling overwhelmed emotionally due to constant, chronic pain, may find more pain relief from a talking psychotherapy than from medically-prescribed pain-killers.
However, cognitive behavioral therapy is only one way to go about learning new skills for emotional self-regulation. Some very simple techniques to alleviate stress and anger include slowly counting to twenty, breathing deeply and slowly, or simply going for a walk and allowing the negative, acute emotion to dissipate over a few minutes’ time.
Journaling is also a very important way to become aware of situations in which a person may lose control over their emotions. A technique that is also taken from cognitive behavioral therapy, a person writes down the situations which can trigger negative thoughts and emotions. The journal is intended to be used as a tool to develop coping mechanisms to stressful situations.
Emotional regulation is something we already use in many everyday situations; we learn from a very young age the appropriate ways to express or not express what we are feeling. Can emotional regulation be used as a way to get effective pain relief? Absolutely!