Why does emotional pain hurt so much?
Things in life can feel overwhelming and difficult to cope with at times. LMV Counseling is dedicated to helping you manage those difficult emotions and events. That’s why we put together this brief guide to give you some relief when the tough stuff is just too much. You have likely experienced emotional pain at some point in your life. Ever been through a:
- Break up
- Loss of a loved one
- Traumatic events
- Unexpected events
- Transition that happens all too quickly
- Transition that feels like it’s out of your control
- Moving to a new place where you know no one
- Not being able to change your substance use even though you’ve tried over and over
- Self-hate and shame
These are all examples of times when people experience challenges to cope with their emotional stability. All are very real and very painful. Some people chalk it up to,
“It’s all in my head, I should be able to handle this. Right?”
Well, if you’ve ever experienced emotional pain it manifests as physical pain. In fact, stress and tension have been shown to increase subjective reports of physical pain in humans. Often this pain affects our thought process and it seems like it’s the only thing we can focus on. Our mind either races a million miles a minute trying to make sense of it all or feels like our thoughts aren’t clicking at all, like we’re in a fog. These are all totally normal and natural experiences when we’re experiencing emotional pain.
However, it’s not so helpful to be validating our normal and natural pain experiences in our daily lives. No one wants to be in the grocery aisle crying hysterically because you can’t pick out a spaghetti sauce. It’s not always helpful for you to be in a business meeting and allow yourself to have a full on panic attack. You might get a lot of “are you okay?” or “what can I do?” Well, the answer is “no I’m not okay and you can’t do anything.” See the conundrum?
Now of course we want to promote taking time to care for yourself and your healing process, but we do need to put some boundaries around this pain at times so we can function. Below we cover grounding, distraction and getting back to basics as strategies to manage this emotional pain.
Grounding is a strategy to bring your body and mind back into the present moment. It allows you to feel connected to something that is real and concrete. It can relax the mind by giving up on trying to deal with the pain for a short period of time. Grounding is direct contact between your body and something that provides support for the body. You bring your awareness to the pressure and sensation your body is experiencing. You can ground yourself by sitting in a chair, pushing hard against a wall, or walking and paying attention to the way your feet make contact with the ground. You can ground when you’re in bed and you note the sensation of the pillow on your face. You can ground by allowing water to flow out of the faucet and onto your hands. Try to bring your awareness and your focus onto the sensation your body is experiencing from the physical space.
Try the following exercise:
- Find a comfortable position, whether that is sitting or standing.
- Slowly begin to bring attention to your body and how it is supported by the chair or your feet. Notice how your toes feels against your shoes or the ground. Notice the way your weight is distributed on your feet.
- Bring your attention to all the places in your body that feel neutral or pleasant. For example, you might notice to yourself your triceps are relaxed. You may bring awareness to the pull on your shoulders you feel as they sink down with gravity.
- Spend as much time here as needed. If you’re just getting started, it may only last a minute and that’s okay. Try to have an internal dialogue with yourself about the sensations you are experiencing.
- If your mind is unable to focus on your body and the sensations, try playing a grounding game with yourself. This will get your mind working on something in the present moment instead of the difficult emotions. Count the number of items that are a certain color in your immediate space. Don’t move, just look around. Count them. For example, say to yourself, “there’s one black pen, one black watch, one black hair” etc. Fill your mind with this activity and give it something else to focus on.
Distraction from Emotional Pain
Sometimes our mind despite our best efforts, cannot refocus. This is when distraction is most important. It is okay to distract ourselves from emotional pain temporarily. It’s when we distract and never come back to it that problems arise. Below is a list that is not exhaustive. Try whatever works. Remember, often drugs and alcohol intensify our feelings during the high or when coming down from the high. If you’d like to control the intensity of your feelings, staying away from substances is best- yes that includes even a couple glasses of wine. Try the following activities to distract yourself:
- Watch an intriguing TV show
- Listen to music- loudly
- Go for a walk. A run is even better-particularly if you have racing thoughts.
- Punch a punching bag
- Drink some water
- Eat- crunchy foods or foods that take a longer time to eat are best. For example, cracking a pecan and getting out the nut will distract your mind for longer than popping a shelled pecan into your mouth.
- Look at old photos that make you happy
- Play with an animal or go visit places where you can observe animals- like a dog park
- Take care of something- like a plant or birds
- Sing a distracting song that will likely get stuck in your head (baby shark anyone?)
- Listen to the sounds around you in detail. Bonus points for going to a public place and eavesdropping.
- Touch something in nature
- Try guided imagery
- Change your temperature-take a hot shower or try putting an ice pack on the back of your neck
Back to Basics
When all else fails, go back to basics. It is common to only be able to function for survival when experiencing emotional pain. Sleeping, eating and using the restroom maybe all you’re capable of at times. If this is the case for you, really focus on those basics and let go of the rest. This may mean cancelling social obligations or trips to care for yourself. Heck- if you were in a car accident and were physically hurt, it would make sense to stay home for a couple days while you nurse yourself back to health. This is the SAME THING! Think of it as an emotional injury that you need to heal from. Focus on the basics- shower, eat, sleep, use the restroom as needed, repeat. If you notice that you’ve given yourself time to recover and you are still not experiencing relief, please seek professional help through counseling to restore yourself to daily functioning.
Our trained therapists are not afraid to walk through the tough stuff with you or help you recover from the challenging and upsetting things you’re experiencing. We with you on this journey and ready to help you through this difficult time. Go ahead, get started now.