Over the past month, we have emphasized the expression and feeling of pain, but it is also apparent that pain and the seven basic emotions are closely intertwined.
It is specifically the connections between pain and anger that were explored in a 2008 study in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine. In that study, Dr. Jennifer Graham and a team of researchers looked at the role of anger management interventions in helping those who suffer from chronic pain. This involved an experimental analysis of over one hundred pain patients who sought to grapple with the struggles of a chronic illness.
Their primary hypothesis that anger management can contribute to both emotional and also pain-related management makes sense given the common effects of chronic illness. Those struck with such a pain condition often face the prospect of losing their job and even their social support systems. This can cause and perpetuate a feeling of anger and unfairness.
Moreover, the search for effective interventions for chronic pain is a necessary and important goal. Many people who face chronic pain struggle to find sympathy amongst medical professionals, and past research indicates a marked increase in depression and anger following the onset of pain, which is not particularly surprising.
Building off this research, Dr. Graham and her team studied a group of 102 volunteers, all of whom had recently attended a pain center and experienced pain for at least the past six months, though on average, they had felt pain for around 3 years. After a series of assessments and intake interviews, each patient was randomly assigned to either the treatment or control group.
In this context, the treatment group was asked to complete a pair of writing tasks dedicated to expressing and grappling with feelings of anger, while the control group was given more emotionally neutral writing tasks. After completion of these tasks over 2.5 weeks, the subjects were interviewed again.
These interviews were then compared to see if volunteers reported differing levels of pain, personal control, and depression. The treatment group was found to have significantly reduced levels of depression and feelings of personal control after undergoing the writing process.
While unfortunately these efforts did not reduce pain, the connection between expressions of anger and improved mental health for those involved is striking. This suggests not only a benefit from expressing one’s emotions but also helps elucidate the complex ties between feelings of depression, anger, and pain.
It is important to be aware of people’s struggles with pain, which is why Humintell has dedicated this month’s blogs to Pain Awareness Month, and the role of anger in chronic pain shouldn’t be understated. As our past blog indicated, even medical professionals are terrible at recognizing genuine from faked pain, resulting in many sufferers of chronic pain struggling at being understood.
By learning to better understand people’s emotions, be it anger, sadness, or pain, we can act more compassionately towards those in their lives who do feel chronic pain. In the meantime, check out some of the past blogs for this month here and here.