Addiction Addictive Behaviors How Emotional Pain Affects Your Body By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada. Learn about our editorial process Updated on July 07, 2020 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Steven Gans, MD Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print PeopleImages / Getty Images Emotional pain is pain or hurt that originates from non-physical sources. Sometimes this emotional distress is the result of the actions of others. Other times, it might be the result of regret, grief, or loss. In other cases, it might be the result of an underlying mental health condition such as depression or anxiety. No matter what the cause, this psychological pain can be intense and significantly affect many different areas of your life. While it is often dismissed as being less serious than physical pain, it is important that emotional pain is taken seriously. There are a number of common feelings that are associated with emotional pain that can have an impact on both your physical and mental health. Also Known As: Psychic pain, spiritual pain, psychalgia, emotional suffering, psychological pain, algopsychalia, soul pain, or mental pain Symptoms Symptoms of emotional pain can include feelings of: Deep sorrow, sadness, or depression Grief Intense distress Loneliness and isolation Negative emotions Panic Rage Shame Worthlessness How Emotional Distress Can Make You Sick In some cases, feelings of emotional pain may lead to physical symptoms that do not have an identifiable physical cause. When these thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that are connected to somatic symptoms result in significant distress or interruption in a person's ability to function, they may be diagnosed with a somatic symptom disorder. Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how to face uncomfortable emotions, featuring comedian Paul Gilmartin. Follow Now: Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts Causes There are a number of different emotions that can lead to psychological pain. Everyone may experience these feelings from time to time, but when such feelings are intense and persistent, they can interfere with a person's ability to function and perform normal daily activities. Sadness Sadness is a natural emotion that is associated with loss and disappointment. However, if it doesn't fade with time, it might point to a treatable condition, depression, that can impact your whole body. If sadness lasts for more than just a few days and impacts your daily life, it may be necessary to seek out medical intervention. You should consult with your doctor and be completely honest about any alcohol or drugs you have been using to cope and self-medicate. Unexpressed Anger Anger is a basic human emotion. It releases adrenaline, which increases muscle tension and speeds up breathing. This is the "fight" part of the "fight/flight/freeze" response. It can be mobilizing at times; however, if it's not adequately managed, this response can lead to long-term physical consequences. Anxiety As with anger, anxiety and fear both also release adrenaline. This generally results in jumpiness, a tendency to startle easily, the inability to relax (the "flight" response), or a feeling of being immobilized or stuck (the “freeze” response). In some people, anxiety is a symptom of an anxiety disorder, and psychotherapy or prescription medication can help. Anxiety can also be induced by substance use, in which case, quitting alcohol and drugs can often improve the symptoms. Tell your doctor about any alcohol or drug use to ensure you are properly diagnosed and treated. Shame and Guilt Shame and guilt often result in a feeling of "butterflies" or weight in the stomach. Common among people with addictions, shame leads to and is worsened by the need for secrecy. If not addressed, prolonged feelings of shame and guilt may lead to physical symptoms. How to Deal With Negative Emotions Impact Psychological pain can also contribute to or worsen physical pain in different areas of the body. Some common types of physical pain that may be connected to emotional distress include: DiarrheaDizzinessHeadachesMuscle pain, particularly in the neckNauseaPain in the arms and legsStomachache or gastrointestinal upset Emotional pain can also be accompanied by: Aggression and violenceAlcohol or substance useAttempted suicideCompulsive behaviors including shopping, gambling, and sex addictionEating disordersRisky behaviorsSelf-harmSuicidal thoughts Such behaviors are often an attempt to diffuse or escape the intense dysphoria caused by emotional pain. Physical vs. Emotional Pain While physical pain and emotional pain are different, there is research that suggests that both types of pain may share some neurological similarities. Both emotional and physical pain are linked to changes in the prefrontal cortex and cingulate cortex. Some researchers argue that rather than viewing emotional pain and physical pain as fundamentally different, they should be conceptualized as both being part of a broader pain continuum. Some types of pain are purely physical while others are purely emotional; but many times, pain lies somewhere in the middle. Treatment Treatment for emotional pain often involves addressing the underlying source of the symptoms, so treatment often depends upon the individual diagnosis. Psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression may be treated with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two. Psychotherapy Psychotherapy to treat emotional may involve the use of talk therapy, including specific approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT focuses on identifying negative thoughts and emotions that contribute to emotional pain and then replacing these thoughts with more adaptive, realistic thoughts and behaviors. Medications Medications may sometimes be prescribed to address certain symptoms of emotional pain. Such medications may include: Antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac (fluoxetine) and Zoloft (sertraline).Anti-anxiety medications, including benzodiazepines such as Valium (diazepam) and Xanax (alprazolam). Complementary and Alternative Medicine Sometimes alternative treatments such as acupuncture, Tai chi, yoga, biofeedback, hypnosis, and meditation may also be used to help alleviate symptoms of emotional pain. Coping Emotional pain can often feel as strong as physical pain and at times can even cause symptoms of pain throughout the body. It can also have a detrimental impact on both short-term and long-term mental well-being, so getting appropriate help and treatment is important. Because emotional pain can be so distressing, people often turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, including drugs and alcohol. The problem is that while these methods might provide short-term relief, they cause greater damage in the long run. Some healthier ways to manage your symptoms of emotional pain can include: Talking to someone: Social support is critical for emotional well-being, and talking to a trusted person, whether its a good friend or a counselor, can help. Exercising: Physical activity has been shown to be effective for improving mood, so it can be a good way to help deal with feelings of emotional pain. Blowing off feelings of anger with a run around the block is a better choice than acting out aggressively. Taking an afternoon stroll can do more to lift your mood than scrolling endlessly through social media posts. Practicing mindfulness: Mindfulness, a mental practice that involves focusing on the present moment, can be useful when you are trying to cope with difficult emotions such as anxiety, grief, sadness, and anger. The process involves not only becoming more aware of your emotions but also stress learning to accept and let go of the need to control or eliminate these emotions. Most importantly, if symptoms of emotional pain are causing significant distress or interfering with your daily life, talk to your doctor or mental health professional. If you or a loved one are struggling with emotional pain, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. How Accepting Emotions Improves Mental Health 9 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing; 2013. Slavin-Spenny O, Lumley MA, Thakur ER, Nevedal DC, Hijazi AM. Effects of anger awareness and expression training versus relaxation training on headaches: A randomized trial. Ann Behav Med. 2013;46(2):181-92. doi:10.1007/s12160-013-9500-z Smith JP, Randall CL. Anxiety and alcohol use disorders: Comorbidity and treatment considerations. Alcohol Res. 2012;34(4):414-31. Dolezal L, Lyons B. Health-related shame: An affective determinant of health?. Med Humanit. 2017;43(4):257-263. doi:10.1136/medhum-2017-011186 Ahmad AH, Zakaria R. 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Front Psychol. 2018;9:249. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00249 By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Get Treatment for Addiction Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.