You’re visiting this article because you want to know, “Is pain an emotion?”. Let’s look at the definition of emotion, as given by Merriam-Webster:
“1. The effective aspect of consciousness; 2. A state of feeling; 3. a conscious mental reaction (such as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body.”
An emotion, in layman’s terms, is something we feel internally that might be expressed externally. We can feel sad inside and not necessarily let it show to others. Or, we can feel sad inside and cry to our mom on the phone, expressing that feeling externally.
Emotions can be strong and powerful, affecting us mentally and physically. They’re often the building blocks of how we choose to think, behave, and treat others. Any emotion, from happiness to anger, can take hold of our lives if we let it do so.
The Link Between Pain and Emotion
By definition, is pain an emotion?
It’s safe to say that pain is both a physical reaction and an emotion. You feel pain, both physically and emotionally. Even when you stub your toe on your end table, you instantly become aggravated at the end table, which relates to the intense feeling directed toward an object mentioned in the definition of emotion.
There are two different types of pain- acute pain and chronic pain. Pain lasting for more than 12 weeks is called chronic pain. Acute pain lasts for 3 to 6 months and is more serious than chronic pain. The suffering caused by diseases can be considered chronic pain.
When we ask ourselves, “Is pain an emotion?”, we tend to think more along the lines of emotional pain and stress brought about by an emotional experience. Emotional pain can be unbearably painful, spiraling into self-doubt, anxiety, stress, depression, and more. In fact, mental pain is characterized by intense negative feelings that a person can’t seem to escape.
However, physical pain is quite similar to emotional suffering when you think about it. When you experience physical pain, your brain reacts by triggering pain signals. You might feel sad when you have a stomach ache, angry when you slam your finger in the door, or helpless when you experience your third migraine in a week.
Some people, especially those who suffer from depression, feel that their mere existence is pain. They're caught in a never-ending cycle of pain and emotion and don't know what to do to stop either one.
You can become more mindful of your emotions, though, by taking control of your brain. Your brain is a powerful tool that controls everything your body does, yet you have control over it too.
Let’s first learn how the brain works to control your emotions so that you, too, can learn to have control over them.
How Does the Brain Control Emotions?
If you've ever wondered which part of the brain controls emotion, the answer is that several pieces do. The main part of the brain that controls emotions is the limbic system of the temporal lobe. However, several parts of the brain within the limbic system work together to produce feelings of happiness, sadness, and yes, even pain.
The hippocampus works as an information transmitter to other parts of the brain that help elicit emotional responses. Specifically, this part of the brain sends signals to the amygdala when a memory triggers an emotion.
The amygdala is one of the most critical parts of the brain that control emotion. This tiny structure has the task of processing all the feelings you have. The amygdala takes signals and information from other parts of the brain and transforms them into an emotion that makes sense for all those pieces of information.
The hypothalamus is another part of the limbic system that interacts with the amygdala. This part of the brain is responsible for regulating emotions. So, if you find that your brain tries to calm you down after you stub your toe on the end table, you can thank your hypothalamus for not allowing your anger to get too out of control
The prefrontal cortex helps you decide what to do with an emotion once you have it. If you're sad but refrain from crying, your prefrontal cortex might be telling you to hold off on crying for now and let it out at a more convenient time.
Controlling Your Pain by Taking Control of Your Brain
What most people don't know is that your brain doesn't have full control over you and your emotions. Instead, you play an essential role in the feelings you have and what you do with them.
In fact, controlling your thoughts and turning negative thought processes into positive ones is the focus of a mental diet (a diet in which you train your brain to think more positively.) Positive thoughts and emotions help alleviate pain and suffering.
You can use brain training also to help you deal with pain, just like you would your thoughts and emotions. This method can be beneficial for people living with severe emotional or physical pain from depression or chronic illness, for example.
How to Train Your Brain to Reduce Mental and Physical Pain
First, you need to be ready and willing to makeover your thought process in a big way. Mental training takes time and persistence, and it won't come easily for many people. But, once you master it, you'll notice that it becomes a helpful habit that you'll keep with you for the rest of your life.
It’s important to remember that your thoughts are things you can control. Therefore, your emotions and pain, to an extent, is something you can control because they are all a part of your thought processes.
Stop Your Negative Thoughts in Their Tracks
When you experience emotional or physical pain, remember that the thoughts associated with that pain are things you have control over. You need to stop them in their tracks before they can become more powerful.
You might want to try writing down the intense thoughts you experience throughout the day for at least two or three days. This practice can help you notice patterns in your thoughts so that you can see what you need to work on most, such as becoming angry over small things or having negative feelings toward yourself for messing up.
When you experience any physical or mental pain, pay close attention to your immediate thoughts. Does your pain make you feel sad, angry, or helpless? Whatever the emotion your pain provokes, you'll need to focus on controlling that feeling. Remember that old saying about how the brain works? Mind over matter.
Learn New Ways of Thinking
Once you’ve identified your problem areas, you can then take the reigns and focus on new ways of thinking that are more productive and conducive to a healthy life.
First, play with some scenarios in your head. You might want to jot down some more positive thoughts in your journal where you wrote your negative ones. Or, draw some pictures that more accurately represent how you’d like to think about that situation, rather than how you already reacted to it.
If you experience chronic physical pain from an injury or illness, you might turn your negative thoughts about your pain into positive ones by thinking about what you can do differently to relieve some pain. Perhaps taking up a new type of exercise or switching medications can provide you with some relief, both physically and mentally. Introducing new stimuli into your life can be cathartic for your mental and emotional well-being.
The key is to remove yourself from your situation in a conscious way so that you gain some perspective. You’ll start to see things in a new light, which can give you the clarity you need to become more positive about your situation.
Work Toward Thought Control Consistently
One of the most critical steps toward becoming more mindful and gaining control over physical and emotional pain is to keep practicing your thought control.
You’ll want to avoid thinking about the past or future as much as possible. Remain in the moment, thinking about your current situation and how you can think and react differently to promote positivity.
Remember that even physical pain links to emotions that you can control. You don’t have to let it take over your body or your mind. Every time you feel a negative thought creep its way into your brain, stop it, grab it, and turn it into something positive.
You can continue to journal your pain and emotions for as long as you need to until you feel that you've mastered the thought-changing process without having to write down your thoughts physically.
Never judge yourself, either, as you read back through your journal. These were once real thoughts you had, and they're valid. Use them as motivation to keep pushing forward to take a more active role in your mentality.
Become Mindful of Your Emotions to Lessen the Impact of Pain on Your Life
Emotional and physical pain can be incredibly intense. They both can take a toll on your body and your mind, preventing you from living a fulfilled, happy, and positive life.
But, pain is an emotion that you have the power to control. By being more mindful of the thoughts you have that relate to pain, you can turn your pain into something more positive. In this case, practice makes perfect, so be sure to practice your brain-training techniques every day to gain control of your pain and other emotions.
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