December 7, 2012
The Link Between Emotional Challenges and Chronic Pain
I’ve become more and more interested in somatization as I try to unravel people’s physical issues. Before I continue, here’s a bit more info.
Somatization disorder is a long-term (chronic) condition in which a person has physical symptoms that involve more than one part of the body, but no physical cause can be found.
The pain and other symptoms people with this disorder feel are real, and are not created or faked on purpose (malingering).
The disorder usually begins before age 30 and occurs more often in women than in men. The disorder is more common in people with irritable bowel syndrome and chronic pain.
In the past, this disorder was thought to be related to emotional stress. The pain was dismissed as being “all in their head.”
However, patients who have a somatization disorder seem to experience pain or other symptoms in a way that increases the level of pain. Pain and worry create a cycle that is hard to break.
People who have a history of physical or sexual abuse are more likely to have this disorder. However, not every person with a somatization disorder has a history of abuse.
As researchers study the connections between the brain and body, there is more evidence that emotional well-being affects the way in which people perceive pain and other symptoms.
In my limited sample size of clients, friends and family, I believe that everyone somatizes to various degrees. Stress is obviously a major cause of somatization. I also believe that prolonged stress will tax the nervous system (AKA keep us in fight or flight mode for way too long) to the point that people’s physical and mental health will deteriorate and may even develop more serious illness potentially even life threatening.
My interest in somatization is also very personal. We teach what we need to learn. I go in and out of suffering from irritable bowel syndrome. My body will reflect exactly what I’m going through emotionally and spiritually. My achilles heal is my tummy and my head. When I’m depleted and trying to do too much, I get head aches, stomach aches and have even faced a life threatening illness years ago I believe in part due to prolonged stress and physically stored trauma.
More specifically, I’ve noticed that many of my clients prone to lower back pain will always have a flare up of pain when they are under prolonged stress or struggling with inner conflict. Often these clients are hyperfunctioning. They can’t slow down. They have a problem saying no to more work or career opportunities, or they have convinced themselves that they need to operate the way they are in order to hold their house of cards together.
I also work with people with auto-immune issues and have found that in times of hyperfunctioning or prolonged stress, their disease will flare up. Same thing goes for people with shoulder injuries, chronic neck pain, head aches like I get. Just about any physical vulnerability will act up in times of stress or in times when we are overdoing it.
I’m pretty open minded about these things. I studied Reiki this summer and know that there is no way to compartmentalize the physical, mental or spiritual. And as we get older, our physical selves start warning us louder and louder that we are going off our path, or ignoring what we really need. We just start vibrating at a lower level for too long. Reiki is a form of vibrational medicine as is exercise in my mind.
Exercise when done in a way that is designed to improve the flow of chi in the body, move stale energy or blockages out, improve posture and alignment, reduce tension and calm the nervous system will help people move away from somatization. Exercise and conscious movement is an excellent way to help people learn to listen to their bodies more so that they can avoid manifesting issues as physical symptoms. The more conscious we are on the physical level, the sooner we can hear the warning signs that we need to refocus, shift gears, learn to practice stillness or even take action in some way. But I don’t have a recipe that can be rolled out across the general population. It is truly an individual process that is best facilitated by someone very attuned to the power of movement in healing. I know that movement is an essential component in the process of pain management and true healing.
Exercising in a conscious, thoughtful way is essential in my life. Sometimes my body is asking me to lift heavy weights. Sometimes it’s asking me to meditate more, do more self massage on a roller. Or sometimes my body craves yoga or more balance oriented exercises that centre my energy. And even sometimes I feel like I need to bang the heavy ropes on the ground or punch a bag to release pent up anger or frustration or emotional pain.
My advice? Sit still for five minutes in meditation position. See if you can ask your body what it needs. Maybe images of the type of movement you need will pop into your head. Don’t judge it. There is such a wealth of inner wisdom in all of us just waiting to be accessed.
About The Author
Jane Clapp has been involved in the fitness industry since 1991 refining her knowledge and skills while working with hundreds of clients and class participants. Her constantly evolving methods develop the mind-body, address food addiction, improve integration and address various degrees of somatization by using movement and Reiki training to release trauma and energetic blockages. A published author, iVillage Canada contributor, Philips Light Therapy spokesperson, an expert featured in the media, Jane has worked with a variety of Canadian and US celebrities, prolific artists, activists, politicians, academics, and media personalities. She continually explores the opportunity to accelerate healing through movement and exercise and recently completed Reiki level 1, 2 and level 3 foundation with Dany Lyne from Unleash Your Potential.
About Dr. Jess
Dr. Jess is a sexologist, author, international speaker and television personality. She has a PhD in human sexuality and travels the globe to promote deliciously pleasurable sex. From hosting Playboy TV’s SWING to running workshops for couples’ in the Caribbean, she relishes in every moment! Check out her tour schedule here.