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Pain as Emotion

Definition of Emotion

  1. 1a obsolete : disturbanceb : excitement

  2. 2a : the affective aspect of consciousness: feeling b: a state of feeling c: a conscious mental reaction (as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body [1]

Definition of Pain

  1. 1: punishment the pains and penalties of crime

  2. 2a : usually localized physical suffering associated with bodily disorder (as a disease or an injury) the pain of a twisted ankle; also a: basic bodily sensation induced by a noxious stimulus, received by naked nerve endings, characterized by physical discomfort (as pricking, throbbing, or aching), and typically leading to evasive action the pain of bee stings b: acute mental or emotional distress or suffering : griefthe pain she had felt at those humiliating words — Morley Callaghan [2]

You may be wondering what pain and emotion have to do with one another. Pain, after all, is a state of non-homeostasis and an imbalance in the body, a sensation in the body, whereas emotion is a conscious mental reaction subjectively experienced as a strong feeling [3]. How can these possibly relate to one another?

First, lets look at where pain and emotion come together. Emotion can change, so can pain; emotion can come on strong with no apparent cause; the same holds true with pain; emotional pain can cause physical pain in the body; emotions start with a thought or in the mind, as does chronic pain. Now, look at the definition of emotion again; typically accompanied by physiological (....) changes in the body.

How can emotion cause physiological changes in the body? How can what you think create a stiff neck? How can overwork, stress from your boss, your job, your lifestyle, create a profound change in your nervous system to the point where you are unable to turn your head?

It all starts in your head, with something as minor as a thought; I don't want to work today on my day off, but if I don't, I will miss this important meeting. That's where it begins. An innocuous, fleeting thought stream juts across your mind, subconsciously, and at the same time, triggers a tightening in the trapezius muscle, which is turn causes Tension Neck Syndrome. [4] [5]

The tightening of the trapezius causes the fascia to tighten and thicken, reducing range of motion and creates inflammation that triggers the pain.

The human body is complex and there is much more we don't about the body/brain connection than what we do know. The great thing is today we have science that studies this connection and studies pain, along with physical therapies, such as Therapeutic Yoga, that combats these triggers.

How you think creates your body. Therefore it is safe to assume that changing the way you think can also change your body. But this has to be accompanied with bottom up processing. {see video}. The body and the brain have to connect, but the body has to experience the emotions that triggered the pain. It has to access the thoughts, essentially tying thought to movement. Once this connection has been made, the body can reverse old patterns and release the pain. And then we need to change our thought process. Learning to meditate, staying in the present moment, experiencing the thought, but letting it go, noticing the thought, but not transferring that thought into the body pattern is crucial to reducing pain.

You see, our body hold on to patterns. Sitting at a desk all day creates tension and a pattern in the shoulders and neck. We come home and we are not at our desk, doing other things, but the pattern is still there, and reinforced the next day and the next and the next. Eventually, your neck and shoulders hold onto the tension for a longer period of time.

Next, the neck pain becomes so unbearable, insomnia sets in. Not getting enough sleep, creates more tension in our mind, creating more tension in the body and so on. One vicious cycle of thought, patterns and emotions driving our pain to the point of disability.

This can be changed. It takes time, but your quality of life can be improved.

[1] Merriam Webster Dictionary

[2] Merriam Webster Dictionary

[3] Merriam Webster Dictionary


[5] Tension Neck Syndrome: neck pain and stiffness with tenderness of the trapezius muscle.Tension neck syndrome often causes fatigue, stiffness in the neck, neck pain or a headache pain from the neck. There are at least 2 tender areas or small, hard nodules, sometimes called trigger points. Often called neck tension or cervicobrachial syndrome, and sometimes mixed with trapezius myalgia.

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