Two Emotional Responses that Hurt Our Physical Bodies

How do you respond when your pain flares? I have been thinking about this a lot over the past 6 or so months. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about some of the harmful ways I emotionally process pain flares and other stressful circumstances.

Personally, I find myself using the following two strategies.

Strategy #1: Freaking out. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t take one more day. My life is terrible!

Strategy #2: Denial. Everything is fine. I’m great! What problems?

Both responses are unhealthy. They are particularly unhealthy when it comes to dealing with physical health issues because both suppression and exaggeration of emotions have a negative impact on our physical bodies.

Suppressing Our Emotions

Do these words sound familiar? Avoidance. Isolation. Numbing. Escape. Depression. Denial. Some of us are really good at denying reality in these ways. This is a bad strategy for a number of reasons, including the fact that it just makes physical pain and symptoms worse.

A great deal of research has been done on the impact of emotional suppression and emotional disclosure on pain levels. 

Emotionally Exaggerating Our Problems

How about these words? Sound familiar? Anxiety. Freaking out. Racing thoughts. Worst case scenario. Heart racing. Panicking. Irritability. Anger. Some of us are really good at taking difficult situations and making them even worse by imagining that the worst-case scenario will certainly come to pass.

Some of us have legitimate reasons to be concerned. For many of us, our worst case scenarios have come to pass before. But even in the face of legitimate concerns, blowing up and letting panic and stress overtake our bodies weakens our ability to tolerate pain.

  • Intense expressions of anxiety, anger, and sadness weaken peoples’ tolerance to pain.
  • Elevated stress is correlated with increased muscle tension and increased pain.

What is the Answer?

So, what should we do? Is there a third way? I can’t say I have it all figured out, but here are a few thoughts.

Here’s how I put it in a sentence: We express the truth about what we are going through to self, others, and God without denying or exaggerating our experience. We simply acknowledge and speak aloud what is true. 

Provide space to grieve. We don’t avoid the emotions, but approach them. We don’t allow ourselves to sit in the sadness or wallow in the anger, but walk through them towards the other side.

Consider self-talk. Is it honest? Suppression leaves stuff out; exaggeration embellishes the truth. What is actually true in my situation? In your situation? Speak the truth, not lies, exaggerations, or omissions. It might sound something like this.

“It’s possible that the worst-case scenario in my head will come to pass. It’s happened before, and it could happen again. But, it’s also possible that this will pass sooner than I think. It’s possible this won’t be as big a deal as I’m imagining. Either way, anxiety and stress won’t help me. They will only make things worse by increasing my stress hormones and increasing my pain.”

Don’t forget God. Bring God into the picture. Did you remember He is there? Constantly present? Did you remember to pray? It’s easy to forget in the moment. Read the Psalms and let them direct your prayers. Ask God questions. Tell God your fears.

Find people and places for emotional disclosure. Bring your burdens to others. Emotional expression to others is important for a couple reasons. Sometimes we need validation that wat we are going through is actually a big deal. It’s not “nothing.” Other times we need to be brought back down and shown that we are misrepresenting our experience to ourselves. We need someone to show us the truth that we can’t see.

What is Best for Our Bodies?  

When pain symptoms flare, we get to choose how we will respond. In my better moments, I can slow down and ask myself important questions. How does God want me to respond in this moment? How can I make sure my response doesn’t have a negative impact on the people around me? What would glorify God most? How can I make the moment better and still appreciate the good things in life in the midst of pain?

I’ve recently added a new question to my list. What response would be best for my physical body?

Freaking out won’t help me. It only increases muscle tension, stress, anxiety, and subsequently pain. Denial won’t help me. It only increases depression, muscle tension, and will probably lead to blowing up later. The best thing I can do for my body is to be honest with myself, others, and God about what is going on.

9 Comments

  1. Powerful words indeed. Thanks for this post. Actually it makes me realize I’ve come some ways since I was at my worst I terms of freaking out. My husband is my knight keeping me out of that dark tower often but more and more I’m able to be my own rescuer from thinking the worst will happen again when faced with adversity. I think it has to do with our new life here where I’m healthier and have been shown that my desperate situation could indeed get better. I finally had a break from things going down the drain one after another. And I think that’s why I can keep more positive and regain my stride faster after set backs. So though I’ve had not, not my hubby, a real full break from all the madness of chronic illness, having lighter situations and mostly hope for better days keep me looking up. This past year was learning to trust more again and not think the worst will come all the time.

  2. Dear Esther,

    I have been following your blog along with some other related web portals (viz. A body of Hope) for quite some time.

    According to my observation, all whom are affected with this chronic pain syndrome happens to be young, pretty, (judging by the photos given) intelligent, God fearing women (judging by the eloquence exhibited on the web portals) belonging to a christian faith.

    But from my end It is near impossible for me to do a proper prognosis/diagnosis without a conclusive medical evaluation.

    But myself , being domiciled in an underdeveloped asian country (Sri Lanka) I just cannot comprehend why your medical specialists in USA and other developed countries are turning a blind eye to this phenomena since the existence of all mankind ultimately depends on the fairer sex, (when it comes to the role played by women in the human reproduction function) unless for some uncanny reason, better known to your doctors.

    Freaking out (violent behaviour) and daniel responses portrayed in your article denotes some medical issues which should be immediately dealt by a qualified psychiatrist and is NOT recommended as a recourse, by me.

    If I were to put myself in your shoes, and faced with an equally hopeless situation, what I would do, will be to strengthen my affiliation with the God Almighty, since the Good Lord is our ONY creator (whatever the secondary religion/race/creed/social status of a given individual maybe) and refrain from seeking ANY medical advice, since the profession has turned blind eye to this phenomena (lack of proper Research and Development of caring for anybody affected such debilitating chronic pain)

    Just hope I could be near your bedside and pray for you and all the good women affected, since it is the ONLY thing which will draw you near to God’s Kingdom.

  3. Hi Esther,
    I appreciate your candidacy in your chronic pain journey, it is a difficult road to travel, I too have chronic health issues & chronic pain with Fibromyalgia being one of them.

    When I have a challenging pain cycle I neither go into denial nor go into emotional exaggeration, I simply use that cycle as a time of quietness before the Lord. I can’t do much else!
    When I am in what is normal (for me) cycles, I prepare for the more challenging cycles ahead (as we know they can come upon us pretty quickly) with diversional projects & reminders of what is important to me & my significant others in my life , so when they hit I can focus on those rather than the intensity of the pain.
    I have found pain management strategies of this kind very helpful in my chronic pain journey. And they can be uniquely designed for each individual.

    Please drop by and have a cup of tea, coffee or hot chocolate and a delightful piece of deliciousness with me soon.

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