What to Do When Emotional Pain Turns Physical

What to Do When Emotional Pain Turns Physical

It’s probably safe to say by the time you become a parent you’ve experienced this phenomenon. Your emotions become so overwhelming they cause a tightness in your chest and abdomen. “Tightness” doesn’t get anywhere close to describing the feeling. It definitely brings awareness of how the person was feeling who initially coined the phrases “heartache” and “gut-wrenching.” The discomfort is, quite frankly, horrible.

No one fully understands yet why this happens but the why is only tangentially relevant. The real question is, “how do I make it stop?” The physical pain is wired directly into how you feel emotionally. The only way to stop it is to calm the emotional pain. There are a couple things you can do to relieve some types of mental anguish. Keep in mind that traumatizing events like losing a loved one may not respond immediately or they may get better only in small increments over many years.

  1. Deep breathing – Rapid breathing can be caused by a state of high stress. Breathing rapidly enough may reduce the amount of oxygen you’re getting adding to your physical stress level (i.e. being stressed makes you more stressed). Deep cleansing breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth, will help de-escalate the situation.
  2. Acknowledge your feelings – Do you know what emotion you’re experiencing? Yes, you know how you feel, but what do you call how you feel? Sometimes applying a word to your feelings can help you understand and process them. It’s much easier for you to recover from a specific feeling than it is to bounce back from general pain, discomfort, tears, and anxiety.
  3. Take a break – It might not be any one single thing that’s caused how you’re feeling. Sometimes too many emotional situations can add up to become overwhelming, even if no single one is terrible on its own. I won’t tell you how long, just take what you can. Whether it’s five minutes or an hour to yourself it’s going to help. Just get to a place where you can’t hear any of your kids or spouse’s demands. You might have to briefly turn off your phone to truly have even a small escape.

The physical reaction you’re feeling is bad for your health. If it happens frequently or lasts for long periods talk to your doctor or a therapist about what you can do to minimize the long-term effects on your wellbeing. The three things I’ve suggested are straightforward and don’t require any formal training to do properly. There are other techniques a professional can recommend and safely teach you if you meet with them in person.

One important thing to keep in mind, be careful not to blame yourself and wallow in guilt for feeling the way you do. That road leads to depression and it’s much tougher to recover from depression than avoid getting to it in the first place. If you do suspect you’re depressed see a medical professional. They can help you recover your energy and may be able to help recover your happiness.

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