When you’re living with ongoing pain, there can be a lot of very good reasons for being upset, frustrated, and downright pissed off. Your pain may be the result of events that were outside of your control, or maybe even somebody else’s fault – like slipping on a wet floor or getting rear-ended while stopped at a red light. And it’s easy to get frustrated with doctors, chiropractors, or physical therapists when their treatments or recommendations don’t help. If your pain prevents you from performing meaningful tasks like going to work, doing chores, or exercising, the sense of loss this creates can add to the snowball of negative emotions. And to top it all off, you may be dealing with non-cooperative insurance companies, side effects from treatment, and friends, family, and co-workers who just don’t seem to appreciate your situation.
Because there is so much to get mad about, anger can become your primary mood when you’re experiencing pain. But too much anger can pose a real problem when it comes to finding relief.
Studies have found that anger can be associated with higher intensities of pain, and that applies to a number of different chronic pain syndromes, like fibromyalgia, back pain, and headaches. Anger also seems to be tied to a decrease in physical performance and increased disability from work. Research also indicates that anger can interfere with sleep quality and lead to poor coping habits. Other studies on anger and chronic pain suggest that increased anger leads to a loss of emotional support and interferes with social connections, as well as with other mood problems like depression and anxiety. The madder we get, the more we can push people away.
But, even if you’re able to admit that your anger is making your situation worse, letting go of it can be difficult. You may feel that by giving up your anger you’re giving in to the pain, or losing your defense mechanism for telling the pain, “This isn’t ok!” Anger can even feel like a source of energy that “fuels” your fight to get through the day or a protective shield to avoid feeling more vulnerable and susceptible to getting even more hurt. But it appears that, in the long-run, the opposite is true.
Sometimes the first step to processing anger is to gain awareness. To help you assess the impact that anger might be having on you, consider having an open discussion with those close to you and with your doctors to get a sense of what they observe about your behavior and mood. If your anger is impacting other people’s ability to best support you, you probably want to know that. When you become more mindful of the signs that an excessive amount of anger is kicking in, you can start to reframe your thoughts and, before reacting, look for alternative ways of responding to the situation.
If you continue to feel overwhelmed by anger, consider getting outside help to learn better coping strategies. Remember, better anger management can mean better pain management.