Menu

How Dealing with Our Emotions Can Help us Heal Chronic Pain

“The part can never be well unless the whole is well.” ~Plato

Our bodies are clever. They constantly send us messages that something isn’t right. It’s our job to tune in, listen, and act on these messages.

That headache, tight shoulders, and backache are all trying to tell us something. But sometimes the physical symptoms we experience are actually tied up in a deeper emotional pain that needs to be dealt with first.

How do I know this? It was a message I needed to learn, one that I now teach to others.

Six years ago my life fell apart. Within an eighteen-month period my marriage broke up, I lost my house in a devastating earthquake, and I had to walk away from my physiotherapy practice that I had poured my soul into for four years.

At the same time I was also experiencing chronic shoulder pain. I was suffering from regular headaches, sciatica, and insomnia. I sought help from a number of different health practitioners. At times I would get temporary relief, but it never lasted.

As a physiotherapist I knew I was doing everything right to heal my physical pain, so I could not understand why I wasn’t healing.

Not only was my physical health a mess during this time, but I was also an emotional wreck!

I felt like a failure. I was ravaged with guilt. I was scared of what the future held. And my self-esteem was at an all time low. I had stopped eating and sleeping. My weight had plummeted and I looked terrible.

It wasn’t until I stumbled across Louise Hay’s book, Heal Your Body: The Mental Causes for Physical Illness and the Metaphysical Way to Overcome Them, that I began to gain a better understanding of the relationship between our emotional and physical health.

This one book was the catalyst for change and healing. I realized that if I wanted to heal myself from chronic pain, I was going to have to dig deep to get to the core of all the challenges in my life.

It was the start of a journey that wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty. A lot of the time I wanted to bury my head in the sand. I have always been one to brush emotions to the side. “I’m fine” was my tagline.

But as I did the work, three key themes became clear.

First, I had no sense of self-worth. I didn’t see myself as important as other people. I would give everything I had to everyone else and nothing to myself. If I did, I would feel guilty.

I also have a Type A personality, I’m a high achiever, and I’m a perfectionist. I would constantly push myself to the limit, and the pressure I put on myself was immense.

Lastly, I realized that I constantly compared myself to those I perceived to be living the perfect life, and I always came up short.

I recognized that the pain I was experiencing was my body’s way of telling me I needed to slow down, take pressure of myself, and start taking care of myself.

I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to change my ingrained habits and beliefs, but I also knew that if I didn’t my body would start screaming louder until I ended up seriously ill.

I started by making small changes. I began to gather knowledge from others. I took what worked for me and discarded the rest. I experimented and added in what made me feel well and healthy.

Sleep was the first thing I made a priority. I had never realized how important sleep was. It’s the time when our bodies repair and rejuvenate. One good night’s sleep doesn’t help us heal; consistently sleeping well does.

Self-care was the next thing I needed to address. I had previously thought self-care meant hour-long bubble baths, a day at the spa, or a week’s vacation in the sun sipping champagne. But I came to realize it didn’t mean any of those things.

I realized that the small things I did throughout my day were just as important—like taking five minutes in the morning to meditate before starting my day, making sure I had prepared a nourishing lunch, spending ten minutes cuddling my dogs after work, and reading a chapter of my book before I went to sleep.

Small things, consistently done over a long period of time, made for big change.

I also realized that my body had been sending me the message that my life had been out of balance for years. But I had lost the ability to tune in, listen, and connect with what it was saying.

I started practicing a simple technique that consisted of meditative breathing, scanning my body for discomfort, and then asking what it was trying to tell me.

Whenever I would feel discomfort in my body, I would ask myself, “If this pain was an emotion, what would it be?” If I answered “sadness,” I would then ask myself, “What is going on in my life right now to make me feel sad?”

I would then use practices, such as journaling, to help me work through, and release, whatever was causing me to feel sad, lonely, or fearful. With time, my emotional well-being improved, and so too did my physical symptoms.

So what are the physical signs that your emotional health may need attention? Here are just three examples that you may be able to relate to:

1. Tight, tired, and painful shoulders.

When I meet people with this problem, they often have a similar story. They believe that they need to be, and do, everything for everyone. They are literally “carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.”

2. A stiff neck.

People with stiff necks have trouble turning their head to one side. They're often dealing with someone close to them making a choice that they don’t agree with. This decision has hurt them and they are finding it hard to “turn the other cheek.”

3. Back pain.

While disc ruptures are not uncommon, most people present with muscle spasms. Again, there is often a deep-rooted emotion playing out behind the scenes. In this scenario, it often pertains to money and finances. Their finances are restricting them from doing the things they want to do (as is their back spasm!)

Our minds and body are so closely connected. But in today’s world, where we are so overstimulated, we have become completely disconnected with ourselves.

Instead of tuning in to our body to find the answers, we tune into Google.

Big life stuff (as I like to call it) happens. There’s no escaping it. Even everyday life can cause us to feel stressed and overwhelmed.

If we don’t learn to deal with our emotions in a healthy way, they become boxed up within our body, until they are expressed in physical pain or illness.

If you are someone who experiences regular physical pain, and you are aware that your emotional well-being may be one of the reasons for this, then I encourage you to start healing by journaling on the following questions:

Does your life feel stressful at the moment, and what is causing you to feel this way?

What is one thing you can let go of, even just for now?

Do you feel overwhelmed, and what do you keep saying yes to that you could begin saying no to?

Are you taking on the emotional loads of others in your life? So often we want to help or fix those close to us, but it’s important to remember that they are on their own journey.

Are there any stories from your past that you are holding on to that need releasing?

Are “you” last on your list of priorities? If so, how can you make a little more time for yourself?

Learning to tune in and listen to your body's messages is the first step toward preventing long-term physical damage. I encourage you to start doing this now, before it ‘s too late.

About Nicola Judkins

Nicola Judkins is a physiotherapist (BPhty) and life coach helps women understand how the physical pain they are experiencing may be related to stress, overwhelm and lack of self-care in their lives. If you would like to learn how to tune in to the messages your body is sending you ‘Breathe, Feel & Ask’ (which you can get here) is a great place to start. You can also read more at reclaimingstrength.net.

See a typo, an inaccuracy, or something offensive? Please contact us so we can fix it!
  • have learn a few excellent stuff here. Definitely price bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how so much attempt you set to create one of these wonderful informative site.

  • Mahesh Sahu

    Nicola nice article.

    One of the best time to scan one body is early morning with a cup of coffe (if you like). Early morning silence gives you better sense to scan the body and mind and recognize the problems.

  • Kaawaa

    Thanks so much.

  • You have no idea how much this post speaks to me. I may not have gone through the horrible things you had to go through m, but I have a lot of stress in my life at the moment and I’m certain it’s at least exacerbating the physical pain in my body. I have Louise’s book but haven’t started it yet, it’s going to the top of my list now! Using this post as a road map and following your plan to “recovery”. Love what you wrote about self-care being small things you do daily rather than bigger one off things that a lot of the time we feel like we don’t have the money or time to do, or just plain don’t think we deserve it! Thank you for sharing this.

  • Debi

    Loved seeing this post in my mailbox this morning. Very much confirmation that I’m on the right track in wanting to teach more of this concept.

  • Claire North

    Nicola. Your post could have been written by me. The similarities between your story and mine are extraordinary. Same personality traits and unhealthy ways of dealing with things but with different terrible life events over the last few years. I’m doing a number of things to get myself right but after reading your post, I now plan to follow your advice. Thank you xx

  • Tracy Carpenter

    Nicola, Thanks for this article! I am a 64 year old psych nurse and counselor, but I have been doing just as you have written- putting myself last and feeling guilty for every failure in my past, until right now I have been considering making decisions that are essentially martyrdom! I will get the book you recommend, and try to reach out to others, instead of shutting myself up alone. I wish we could have a group therapy session here on your board!
    Tracy

  • Eileen

    I had polio as a child and have battled cancer twice. I have read Louise Hays book and practiced the affirmations . My pain is physical as a result of side effects from chemo. I am 70 years old and would love to be able to curb my physical pain. Any suggestions? Thank you.

  • Joel Scott

    Nicola,

    Never thought to acknowledge that Physical Pain may be a sign of Emotional Pain before. I can relate to carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders.

    What are your thoughts about hamstring and leg pain? Would this, in your mind, be a side effect of walking around with too much baggage?

    Thank you for enlightening me.

  • Nicola Judkins

    Hi Joel, from what I have read and understand leg pain can be associated with a fear of the future. Our legs are the limbs that help us move forward and the emotion behind leg pain is thought to be a reluctance, or fear, to do so. Does that make any sense to you in regard to your question?

  • Nicola Judkins

    Hi Eileen, a few years ago I worked very closely with women with cancer as a Certified Cancer Rehabilitation Therapist so I can certainly give you some suggestions. If you’d like to email me at nicola@reclaimingstrength.net and let me know a little more about the type of physical pain you are experiencing I am more than happy to chat to you and hopefully point you in the right direction. Thank you for reaching out.

  • Nicola Judkins

    Hi Tracy, from what you have written I can recommend two really good books for you (actually I can recommend SO many but will start with these … if you’d like me to recommend any more then please feel free to email me at nicola@reclaimingstrength.net). The two books I would recommend are ‘You Are Enough’ by Cassie Mendoza-Jones and ‘Mastering Your Mean Girl’ by Melissa Ambrosini. These are probably better books to start with than the one I recommended in my post. If you’d like any other recommendations then please feel free to touch base with me again.

  • Nicola Judkins

    Hi Claire. Thank you so much for your message and I love hearing that there’s other people who have been through similar situations and are working to come through the other side. I think sometimes it makes us feel less alone. Please feel free to keep in touch and let me know if I can help in any other way. Xo

  • Nicola Judkins

    Hi Debi, I love hearing that you are teaching this concept as well. It’s definitely a message that needs sharing. What area of work are you in?

  • Nicola Judkins

    Hey Jenna, I’m so glad that my post has been able to help you … even just a little bit. I have a number of other books, blog posts and resources that you might find helpful so please feel free to contact me anytime at nicola@reclaimingstrength.net if you’d like to touch base. And I’m all about the little acts of self-care. I really do believe that are so important! You take care and please feel free to reach out any time xo

  • Nicola Judkins

    Thanks Kaawaa. I appreciate your message.

  • Nicola Judkins

    Hi Mahesh … I love my mornings. They are my favourite time of the day.

  • Nicola Judkins

    Thank you. That’s lovely to hear.

  • Mannawar

    this article relate so much to me, I’m 19 year old now i met someone 6 years back when i was 13, i was very young that time, we meet on facebook ( i know this sounds funny), we became very good friends, he was 4 years older then me, we had very good understanding , slowly he became my best friend, we used to talk everyday, 3 years back ended our friendship, as i came to know his feelings. He became serious about me but he never forced himself on me, he still wanted us to continue our friendship, but i couldn’t i felt cheated, it was like he has misunderstood my actions, i ended everything, deleted him from everywhere, but he still used to send me emails for some time from others email ids which i ignored fully. But his words used to make me sad, i started to feel gulity , i started to blame myself for condition that i have done wrong with him, some times i used to reply his back, but only for 2 or 3 days but this didn’t stop i couldnt help myself it was like i felt need of him, need of talking to him so much that i couldn’t handle it myself. It continued like this over 2 years, last year in december i contacted him again, i poured my heart to him, how i felt guilty and he said i shouldn’t be gulity at all, and hence we can try to be friend again. after understanding bit of it i came cross that i wanted a relationship which isn’t possible over this internet world, i hate to feel so much for someone who i havn’t met at all. Now we do talk, but never about us, and i have kept a line between us, hence i feel bad for him still as i know he had pure feelings for me, but i can’t have a relationship based over internet. but at the same time i can’t stop myself for feeling for him . i don’t knnow what to do , i can’t tell him that i want to him as he will misunderstand , i don’t want him to know how deepest my feelings r for him ,i don’t want to be hurt but its still hurting me a lot . Recently i been seeing him in my dreams, i want to talk him about this but i can’t gather my words, i feel lost, it gives my headache. i don’t like to alone or lisent to music as my thoughts goes automatically back to him.
    please i need some advices .

  • Kevin Vincent

    Hi,

    Sad to see that you don’t see the cause of the problems. What and How we THINK.
    Your 3 themes are all to do with how you thought. And you don’t feel you are a failure. You THINK you are a failure.
    The word ” listen” and ” silent” are the same alphabets .
    If we don’t run from ourselves ( by think g, doing stuff) and if we have the COURAGE to observe our b’day feelings , be with them, face them without analysis , we HEAL.
    THINKING is a pernicious habit and creates how we feel.

  • Nicola Judkins

    Hi Kevin, I completely agree with you that our thoughts are incredibly important and I’m sorry if you didn’t feel that came across in my article. My article was simply a way of describing how I started to work through my journey towards healing in the hope it would help at least one other person out there. And I’m still learning. I am certainly not saying that I have all the answers.

  • Lisa Miller

    Great article! I have severe depression and anxiety, as well as anorexia nervosa. I’ve also been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and myofascial pain syndrome. I’ve learned from a great therapist just how much my body and mind are interconnected. I now meditate and am a mindfulness fanatic. Nicola, I’m very glad you found your way to healing. Good luck to you!

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    Thank you for sharing your story…:) Btw; can you elaborate on what you meant by:

    “I started practicing a simple technique that consisted of meditative breathing, scanning my body for discomfort, and then asking what it was trying to tell me. Whenever I would feel discomfort in my body, I would ask myself, “If this pain was an emotion, what would it be?” If I answered “sadness,” I would then ask myself, “What is going on in my life right now to make me feel sad?”

    By meditative breathing..how does one be able to tell that the pain in a specific part of the body means a certain emotional state being the cause of it..??

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    “I wish we could have a group therapy session here on your board!” haha..I feel the same way about a number of bloggers & commenters in Tiny Buddha. Wish I could have met more of us here in real life..:)

  • Joel Scott

    Hey Nicola,

    The analogy makes perfect sense, however I can’t say as though I am afraid of the future. In fact, I welcome it with open arms. Would there be another thought that you have researched?

    Joel

  • Nicola Judkins

    Hi Joel, if you are suffering from hamstring/leg pain then I was actually just wondering if you have had this assessed by a physiotherapist? It can be due to a number of things … referral from the back, glute muscles or the hips. It can also be because you are activating your hamstrings before your glutes during activities that involve hip extension. If those things have been ruled out then, yes, there may be an emotional aspect to it. Although it is always difficult to expand on this more without talking to someone and knowing their history, life circumstances etc. Sorry, that’s probably not a lot of help but I do believe that everyone has one area in their body where they store their ’emotional stuff’. It seems to be different for everyone. For me it’s in my shoulders. For other clients of mine it tends to be in their back or hips.

  • esraswan

    I loved reading this piece. I suffer from so much pain and I do take some medication for it which does help, but what helps most is my breathing and meditation. I try to keep my breathing right and I concentrate on the air flow and my stomach rises whilst blocking everything out and It helps so much. I have found since doing this me, my brain and my body seem to get on a little better. There is some sort of harmony that has spread throughout my life. I am Autistic and it has helped the situations that stress me out. I have found out that I am epileptic to and because of these breathing techniques I am able to cope with it whit out getting stressed. Still working on not getting stressed out by the kids and England football team, but blogs like yours will definitely help.
    Thank you kindly.

  • Joel Scott

    No, that’s great. Thank you Nicola

  • Barbara MacKenzie

    This is an awesome post. 3 months ago I fractured my shoulder and needed a reconstruction. I had been juggling all the balls giving out to everyone else except myself. I have done this for years feeling guilty and inadequate when not being able to deliver. My recovery has been painful and slow. I have been off work but early on i was frustrated not being able to function. I had heaps of visitors and was exhausted. It wasn’t until I actually started staying in bed later in the morning and slowing up that the healing has taken place. Focusing on myself, my needs, changing to the correct physio asking questions about my surgery to understand why I was so sore and not feeling guilty about things I can’t do that has seen a huge improvement. This post is bang on.