Our thoughts and emotions can affect your health. Emotions that are freely experienced and expressed without judgment or attachment tend to flow fluidly without impacting our health.
On the other hand, repressed emotions (especially fearful or negative ones) can zap mental energy, negatively affect the body, and lead to health problems..
It’s important to recognize our thoughts and emotions and be aware of the effect they have—not only on each other, but also on our bodies, behavior, and relationships.
Poorly-managed negative emotions are not good for your health
Negative attitudes and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness can create chronic stress, which upsets the body’s hormone balance, depletes the brain chemicals required for happiness, and damages the immune system.
Chronic stress can actually decrease our lifespan. (Science has now identified that stress shortens our telomeres, the “end caps” of our DNA strands, which causes us to age more quickly.)
Poorly managed or repressed anger (hostility) is also related to a slew of health conditions, such as hypertension (high blood pressure), cardiovascular disease, digestive disorders, and infection.
Symptoms of emotional pain can include feelings of:
- Deep sorrow, sadness, or depression
- Intense distress
- Loneliness and isolation
- Negative emotions
In some cases, feelings of emotional pain may lead to physical symptoms that do not have an identifiable physical cause. When these thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that are connected to somatic symptoms result in significant distress or interruption in a person’s ability to function, they may be diagnosed with a somatic symptom disorder.
There are a number of different emotions that can lead to psychological pain. Everyone may experience these feelings from time to time, but when such feelings are intense and persistent, they can interfere with a person’s ability to function and perform normal daily activities.
Sadness is a natural emotion that is associated with loss and disappointment. However, if it doesn’t fade with time, it might point to a treatable condition, depression, that can impact your whole body.
If sadness lasts for more than just a few days and impacts your daily life, it may be necessary to seek out medical intervention.
You should consult with your doctor and be completely honest about any alcohol or drugs you have been using to cope and self-medicate.
Anger is a basic human emotion. It releases adrenaline, which increases muscle tension and speeds up breathing. This is the “fight” part of the “fight/flight/freeze” response. It can be mobilizing at times; however, if it’s not adequately managed, this response can lead to long-term physical consequences.
As with anger, anxiety and fear both also release adrenaline. This generally results in jumpiness, a tendency to startle easily, the inability to relax (the “flight” response), or a feeling of being immobilized or stuck (the “freeze” response).
In some people, anxiety is a symptom of an anxiety disorder, and psychotherapy or prescription medication can help.
Anxiety can also be induced by substance use, in which case, quitting alcohol and drugs can often improve the symptoms. Tell your doctor about any alcohol or drug use to ensure you are properly diagnosed and treated.
Shame and Guilt
Shame and guilt often result in a feeling of “butterflies” or weight in the stomach. Common among people with addictions, shame leads to and is worsened by the need for secrecy.
If not addressed, prolonged feelings of shame and guilt may lead to physical symptoms.
Psychological pain can also contribute to or worsen physical pain in different areas of the body. Some common types of physical pain that may be connected to emotional distress include:
- Muscle pain, particularly in the neck
- Pain in the arms and legs
- Stomachache or gastrointestinal upset
Emotional pain can also be accompanied by:
- Aggression and violence
- Alcohol or substance use
- Attempted suicide
- Compulsive behaviors including shopping, gambling, and sex addiction
- Eating disorders
- Risky behaviors
- Suicidal thoughts
Such behaviors are often an attempt to diffuse or escape the intense dysphoria caused by emotional pain.
Physical vs. Emotional Pain
While physical pain and emotional pain are different, there is research that suggests that both types of pain may share some neurological similarities.7 Both emotional and physical pain are linked to changes in the prefrontal cortex and cingulate cortex.
Some researchers argue that rather than viewing emotional pain and physical pain as fundamentally different, they should be conceptualized as both being part of a broader pain continuum.8 Some types of pain are purely physical while others are purely emotional; but many times, pain lies somewhere in the middle.
Treatment for emotional pain often involves addressing the underlying source of the symptoms, so treatment often depends upon the individual diagnosis. Psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression may be treated with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two.
Psychotherapy to treat emotional may involve the use of talk therapy, including specific approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
CBT focuses on identifying negative thoughts and emotions that contribute to emotional pain and then replacing these thoughts with more adaptive, realistic thoughts and behaviors.
Medications may sometimes be prescribed to address certain symptoms of emotional pain. Such medications may include:
- Antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac (fluoxetine) and Zoloft (sertraline).
- Anti-anxiety medications, including benzodiazepines such as Valium (diazepam) and Xanax (alprazolam).