This is the third in a three-part series on chronic pain and suffering. In part 1 we discussed physical pains affecting bones, joints and muscles. Part 2 covered chemical-induced pain, often in organs and organ systems. The final part deals with emotional and mental stress—probably the most overlooked or misunderstood cause of chronic pain.
Emotional pain and suffering includes altered mental states such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, and fatigue, but can also present as muscle weakness, hypersensitivity, and hyposensitivity (lack of feeling, or disconnect).
Milder forms of emotion-induced pain and stress includes poor concentration, lack of confidence, feeling overwhelmed, negativity, and difficulty with social interactions. Emotional stress is insidious in that it affects the magnitude to which you feel any pain in the body. Damage to a body part can determine the type of pain or dysfunction you may experience, but emotional stress often determines whether or not you feel the pain, and how severe the pain is perceived.
At the core of it, emotional distress is the perception of not being able to handle life’s situations, or sometimes life itself. It’s a learned response—often from a young age—on how to perceive certain people, behaviours, and situations. Often called, “limiting beliefs,” these perceptions colour how a person thinks they must think, act, and be. Examples include a physically abused child who goes on to bully other children, veterans who suffer post-traumatic-stress disorder being hyper-vigilant and unable to relax, and even poverty-stricken parents extolling the evils of money.
A more apt description of emotional stress is “learned helplessness” or “learned hopelessness.” A little fall is supposed to hurt, therefore all falls and bumps will hurt. A girl is teased about her body, so she believes she can never be pretty enough. A boy sees his parents unwind with beer and learns that alcohol is the appropriate escape from life’s stresses. The belief doesn’t have to make sense or have any truth to it in order to stick—just passion or repetition.
If you want to be released from emotional baggage, there are three steps in order to change. First, you will need to have awareness of the negative thought or behaviour pattern. This limiting belief may have been a useful survival tactic in certain circumstances, but may not suit you anymore. Once you have the awareness, you can release the limiting belief’s power over you and replace that way of thinking or behaving with another mindset/lifestyle that is more beneficial to yourself and humankind. Often, this stage is where people get stuck—dwelling on what’s wrong and the big “why?” Sometimes you’ll never really know “why” and you need to move on to step 2 anyway.
Step 2 is to choose a new path for yourself and take action to make it true for you. The same heavy workload can be seen as a burden or as an exciting challenge. The difference is choice. Are you a victim of your job or life situation, or did you choose this challenge to get ahead? Do you need to take courses, surround yourself with supportive people, or take other action steps to feel more empowered to handle life’s curveballs?
In chronic cases, you can feel in a rut—that you keep getting pulled back down, or your default response is doubt, negativity, and hopelessness. This means your brain has been wired to believe there is only one way. Your nerves are no longer sending messages of what is, because some are hyper-sensitized and others inactive.
Step 3 is to remove nerve interferences that prevent proper nerve flow. In doing so, you can re-stimulate inactive nerves and reduce irritation to over-stimulated nerves. Chiropractic care is key to this step. It can take lots of repetition over a prolonged period of time for healing of over-stimulated nerves and balancing the nervous system, but it can be done, and it has been many times before.
Chiropractic care is most effective in emotion-based pain when the upper neck at the base of the skull is assessed in detail. That area is where the brainstem extends into the neck and has direct impact on filtering the information going up to the brain. Without proper filtration, the brain can get easily overwhelmed with excess information, including redundant messages and incorrect messages. The result is a lot of static and “noise.”
With proper filtration, the brain gets a truer picture of what’s really going on in the body and world around it (“the big picture”) and can make better choices on how to respond. Compensations from nerve irritations can occur anywhere in the spine and be locked into the soft tissue, so it’s important to relieve these stresses as well to complete the healing.
Finally, there are steps you can take to facilitate the healing process and support the new you, such as eating healthfully and getting exercise. We need movement for digestion, our immune system, and maintaining strong muscles, bones and joints. Movement also stimulates nerves in a neutral fashion, releases toxins so they can exit the body, stimulates the release of endorphins to help you feel better about yourself, and reduces pain sensitivity.
Dr. Sabrina Chen-See is a pediatric and family wellness chiropractor based in Vancouver. She is a firm believer in making positive contributions to society, and regularly volunteers her time and chiropractic skills for community and charitable events. Website: www.DrChenSee.com. Phone: (604) 566 9088