Anger and Stress Management Tips for Satisfying Relationships by Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
Unable to sleep for the third night in a row, thirty-six-year-old Orrin, an investment analyst, got up and took his prescribed pain killers for his lower back pain and sciatica. The relief was temporary and he awoke from a drowsy state with intense throbbing pain down his right buttock, thigh and leg. His lower back pain made it difficult for him to get out of bed, so he used the cane he kept near him to push himself up. He was angry that the pain medications weren’t working, and even angrier that all the physical therapy and meditative exercises he performed regularly had little to no effect.
At work, using his ergonomic chair and work station, the pain persisted, and the stress gave him a nagging headache. When he missed the perfect moment to make a trade for one of his customers, he wasn’t aware of being angry and he just kept going, trying to compensate by working harder. As the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia, 2007 indicated, chronic pain not only makes you uncomfortable, but impairs memory and concentration
He hated the carefree attitude of many of his colleagues, believing that they were shortchanging their customers, and ultimately tarring him with the same brush. He nipped his rising anger in the bud and tried to outdo the performance he had achieved yesterday. But the stress of being mocked by the team elevated the pain in his lower back, and gave him stomach cramps. He was in agony, and took more pain medication that gave him little or no relief. He tried walking around to relieve the pressure on his sciatic nerve but he was so tense that it was a washout.
His thirty-eight-year-old wife Amy offered to massage his back. It felt both relieving and anxiety provoking. He recalled the times when he’d longed for his mother to soothe his headaches and stomach aches, his cuts and bruises and his fears and doubts – but she usually palmed him off with candy and/or video games. He remembered how angry he used to get, but he never showed it, terrified that if he did, she would retaliate with her rage. His mother’s rage was unpredictable and fierce. She would throw food around, hurt he dog and yell at Orrin just for being around! He had prided himself for not losing his cool as he grew up. But was it worth it?
Orrin grew to be afraid of his back pain and stomach cramps returning when the medications wore off, or when he went back to his stressful work environment. It was the same fear he had as a kid when he anticipated the pain that would come with his mother’s smacks and verbal abuse. Negative emotions interfere with the brain processing of actual pain, increasing the anticipating of pain, which in many cases makes it worse, as reported by Gastroenterology, 2011.
Later in the week as Orrin’s throbbing lower back pain prevented him from sitting in his office chair, he found himself welling up in tears. Sadness enveloped him, making his pain feel even worse, as outlined in an article published in Biological Psychiatry, 2010 – which found that sadness disrupts some neurocircuit pathways in the brain that process pain. Sadness and depression drive the pain, making it feel much more intolerable.
Despite the sadness, Orrin was very aware of his anger and didn’t ignore or re-label it as ‘just frustration.’ He was furious that the one thing that usually distracted him from the pain – his high pressured and fast paced work – was not possible. He swore and cussed under his breath, threw down his briefcase and went outside. Walking along a nearby nature trail he let out his anger. Sometimes it was by kicking a twig and other times by repetitively banging one rock on another, while swearing and cussing to the squawking crows around.
A couple of minutes later his pain had substantially subsided. He couldn’t understand it, but the relief was palpable. The Annals of Behavioral Medicine 2013 published an article demonstrating that only Anger Awareness and Expression Training (AAET) was effective in promoting emotional processing and expression leading to less pain, particularly in headaches. The authors indicated that the paid reduction comes when swearing triggers the fight-or-flight response of stress, obliterating the link between fear of pain and the pain itself.
Having put his emotional pain into words by expressing his hurt and anger that he harbored over so many years, released his physical pain. The journal Emotion reported in 2007, that attempts to suppress anger amplifies all the irritating and uncomfortable aspects of pain perception. So by taking the muzzle off his anger reduced the sensitivity of the pain receptors and brought some respite.
Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
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